Tuesday, December 29, 2015

As the old year ends, and the New Year begins!

Here's an interesting bit to ponder on New Year's Eve:

In Western Europe During the Middle Ages, while the Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC) was still in use, officials moved New Year's Day around, depending upon locale, to one of several other days, among them: 1 March, 25 March, Easter, 1 September, and 25 December.

These New Year's Day changes reverted to using January 1 before or during the various local with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar beginning in 1582. The Gregorian was a refinement to the Julian, adding a correction that contituted Leap Year.

The change from March 25 to January 1 took place in Scotland in 1600, before the ascension ofJames VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603 and well before the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britian in 1707.

In England and Wales as well as all British dominions, including Britain's American colonies, 1751 began on March 25 and lasted 282 days, and 1752 began on January 1.

So, we have been celebrating January 1, at least in the Western world, for only 263 years.

Wishing you a wonderful 2016, filled with a sense of curiosity and imagination (health, wealth and happiness go without saying!!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Greetings! Joyeux Noel!

With Christmas only days away and all that needs to be done, I have not had the time to blog as much I'd like, but I take this opportunity to wish you Merry Christmas!

I hope your "Every-Christmas'Wish" comes true, and I look forward to blogging you my thoughts on the Enlightened Age in 2016.

I leave you with some beautiful images from Christmas at Versailles Palace, Paris, as my gift to you!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Holiday Treat!

We are well into December now, and thinking of holiday parties and festivities to come. At every Christmas gathering, there are the traditional dishes, some based on where one lives around the  globe, and some based on tradition, mostly German and English, like the "Dickens Christmas", for instance.

In 1773, noted English clergyman James Woodforde, was asked to organize a holiday meal at New College, Oxford, and of course, he included Mince Pies! Below is his recipe, that was recorded in 1795.

Parson Woodforde’s Mince Pies

For the mincemeat (2-2 ½ lbs):
¾ lb cooking apples;
8 oz currants;
8 oz raisins;
6 oz shredded suet;
8 oz dark brown muscovado sugar;
4 oz lean beef mince;
grated rind and juice of 1 medium lemon;
1/8 teaspoon ground mace;
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves;
1-2 drops cider vinegar to sharpen (optional);
3-4 dessertspoons brandy, to taste.
Peel and core the apples. Mince them, together with the dried fruit and suet. Then mix in all the other ingredients. Store in airtight, vinegar-proof pots in the refrigerator. Use within three weeks.
For the mince pies (about 20):
Do not use the mincemeat uncooked. Grease bun or patty tins and line with puff pastry. Fill with the mincemeat; the quantity above should fill twenty deep 2½ inch diameter tins. Cover if you wish, but remember that fatty meat may float off a little free during cooking; it can be blotted off open tartlets after cooking. If not covered, top each mince pie with a rosette of brandy butter before serving. 

By the way, Woodforde is the author of The Diary of a Country Parson. It is a rather detailed and meticulous record of his life. It provides an authentic look at the life of country life in England at the time. You might find it a tasty treat as well!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Little Luxuries and Shared Joy!

Well, here we are again....December 1st, and it's exciting to think that there are only 24 days until Christmas. The weather has turned here in the high desert, and I actually had the thermometer indicator in my car flash the little" snowflake" and make a ding sound, as the 38o reading came up on the dash board. I love that! And, it's high time. We have had too much warm weather. It's time to get our the quilts and light the fireplace, and have the evening whiskey.

I will be placing my advent calendar up in the kitchen; courtesy of the National Gallery in London, where I bought it a couple years ago. It's still fun to open each little door every morning.

As the years go by, I like the simple things best about Christmas; the baking, the making things for friends and family, the listening to beautiful holiday music, the sharing the time with those I love. I am not feeling compelled to go to the mall. The behavior of the "Door Buster" or "Black Friday" reveler is appalling to me. It's a real turnoff.

In the 18th Century, the focus was not on buying up a storm, but "church, dinner, dancing, some evergreens, and visiting." For instance, Philip Vickers Fithian's December 18, 1773, diary entry about exciting holiday events mentions: "the Balls, the Fox-hunts, the fine entertainments. . ."

Gift giving was not to the excess it has become today. Cash tips, lite books, sweets in small amounts were given out by masters to their dependents, whether slaves, servants, apprentices, or children. Children and others did not reciprocate. Our idea of "filling stockings with care" and "eyes all aglow" come more along the 19th Century. 

Décor was mostly of natural materials, with the intent of brightening the bleakest time of the year. Evergreens were studded with berries and blossoms, and candles, too.

There is something very lovely about getting back to basics, and remembering that the holiday really is about Christ's entrance into our world. So, I send you wishes for a blessed and beautiful holiday season ahead, filled with little luxuries and shared joy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Marchons! Marchons!

France's national anthem, La Marseillaise, is one of the most captivating and defiant of all anthems.

In 1792 Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, captain in the French army, composed it, after Austrian and Prussian troops invaded France, hoping to stop the revolution. The mayor of Strasbourg asked Rouget to write something that would rally the troops who were under threat. It was originally titled "Chant de guerre pour l'Armee du Rhin", and it was dedicated to Marshal Nicholas Luckner, the army's Bavarian commander.

The lyrics stated that the children of the Fatherland's day of glory has arrived, but there was also a terrible warning, that "ferocious soldiers" were coming under the "Bloody banner" of tyranny to "cut the throats of your sons, your women". Citizens were to take up arms and "Marchons! Marchons"  (let's march on !)

Sung by troops from Marseilles as they approached Paris, this is how it got its nickname. It became the French anthem in 1795, but lost its status when Napoleon I reigned.

La Marseillaise was restored again during France's third republic - from 1870 when the modern idea of what France means was established. Unlike Britian's "God Save the Queen", it is not aristocratic, but about the people, about being a citizen.
And, so, here is the song, and a translation!

Allons enfants de la Patrie, (Arise, children of the Fatherland)
Le jour de gloire est arrive! (The day of glory has arrived!)
Contre nous de la tyrannie, (Against us tyranny's)
L'etendard sanglant est leve (repeat) (Bloody banner is raised)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes (Do you hear, in the countryside)
Mugir ces feroces soldats? (The roar of those ferocious soldiers?)
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras (They're coming right into your arms)
Egorger vos fils, vos compagnes! (To cut the throats of your sons, your women!)
Chorus: Aux armes, citoyens, (To arms, citizens)
Formez vos bataillons, (Form your battalions)
Marchons, marchons, (Let's march, let's march)
Qu'un sang impur (Let an impure blood)
Abreuve nos sillons (repeat) (Water our furrows)

And, if you want to see a great rendition, watch it performed at Rick's in the film Casablanca! 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Showing Support!

With the hideous terrorist attacks in Paris, it is natural to want to show some kind of support for France and the Parisians. I was in Paris not too long ago, and the people were very friendly, helpful and showed support for the United States, especially in the Normandy area where D Day occurred.

People around the free world are flying the French tri-color flag along with their own. It's a beautiful sentiment.
I looked into another interesting, if not lovely, way to show alliance during the 18th Century. The "Cockade", or knot of ribbons, arranged in a circular shape and worn on the side of a man's tricorne hat, or on lapels or in the hair of women. The cockade would generally show, at that time, allegiance to some political faction, their rand, or as part of a servant's livery.

In pre-revolutionary France, the cockade of the Bourbons was all white. In Great Britian, supporters of the Jacobites wore them white, and in the Hanoverian monarchy, they were black.

In 1780, a blue cockade was worn as a symbol of anti-government feelings worn by rioters in the Gordon Riots.
During the American Revolution, the Continental army wore them in various colors, until General George Washington stated  
"As the Continental Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance that the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green."

Eventually the Continental Army reverted to a black cockade that they inherited from the British. When France became a US ally, the Army pinned the white cockade of the French Ancien Regime onto the old black cockade. The French in turn pinned a black circle of ribbons to their white. These became known as the "Union Cockade". Later on, the French would develop the tri-color (red, white, blue - the arms of Paris) cockade, known as the "Tricolore".

And there you have it, the origins of a very pretty as well as powerful symbol of allegiance. Makes me want to sew one up right now!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Crowning Glory!

Last weekend I was at a wedding, and the bride wore a lovely tiara, or jeweled ornamental crown. It was quite lovely, and made me think how great it would be to have one, and where it somewhere special. Every girl wants to be royalty for at least one day.

The word "Tiara" comes from the Latin and Ancient Greek. They are usually for formal occasions, particularly for a White Tie event.

In the late 18th century, with the Neoclassicism in vogue, tiaras came back into fashion for women. Taking inspiration from Ancient Greece and Rome, jewelers made wreathes of gold, studded with precious gemstones. Josephine de Beauharnais, wife of Napoleon (below left), is credited with popularizing these lovely jeweled crowns along with Empire style dress. Napoleon wanted the French court to be the very grandest, and supposedly gave his wife many fabulous "parures" or matching sets of jewelry which included earrings, rings, bracelets, necklaces and tiaras all designed around a theme with matching gemstones. In the 18th Century, many of the tiaras featured themes of nature, with highly rendered leaves and flowers, with diamonds certainly a favorite stone to include.

By the way, the nuptial, or wedding, crown has been worn by many in European cultures, but most common today in Eastern Orthodox weddings. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November!

 Remember, remember the 5th of November!

 Today is Guy Fawkes Day, originating from the famous Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a group of conspirators tried to assassinate the Protestant King of England, James I. They failed, but came quite close to pulling it off. Hoping to replace James I with a Catholic royal, Guy Fawkes along with his cohorts set a cache of explosives beneath the House of Lords, hoping to set it off upon James' entrance. They were caught in the act, and the failure has been celebrated ever since, to one degree or the other. The first celebration anniversary was allowed as long as there wasn't any danger, or disorder. It became an official observance with the "Thanksgiving Act", proposed by Edward Montagu, a Puritan member of Parliament. The Church even added to England's Book of Common Prayer, a service for the 5th of November.  

The holiday had a ghoulish trend to it as effigies of the Pope or Guy himself were burned in the streets, and of course, there are some who go to great lengths to gain financially from the festival.  
In 1790, the Times in London reported instances of children "begging for money for Guy Faux" and a report in 1802, described how a "Set of idle fellows...with some horrid figure dressed up as a Guy Faux" were convicted of begging and receiving money and committed to prison".
The print above shows a bonfire celebration outside Windsor Castle in 1776.

For the good of the day, one might care to watch V for Vendetta, a graphic novel turned movie, loosely based on Guy. Fun stuff. I love the mask!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wigged Out!

The other day a friend asked me about 18th Century wigs, and how people wore and maintained them; that it might be an interesting subject for my blog. I said yes, that is an interesting subject, and so, here are some good points:

Men's wigs, or perukes, were powdered in our to give them their particular white color. By that time, women didn't wear wigs, but supplemented their coiffure with artificial hair, and powdered it with grey or bluish grey color. The powder was made from finely ground starch, scented with orange flower, lavender or orris root.

These wigs were essential for full dress occasions, and continued so up until the end of the 18th Century. But, powdering these wigs were messy and eventually, powderless wigs were incorporated, made of horsehair. Many of this type were used for court dress and the legal profession as ceremonial wigs for barristers. Women sometimes powdered their own natural hair, from the 1770's onwards. After 1790, women seldom powdered their tresses. The fashion was declining. But also, the British government levied a tax on hair powder, and so there went that. Imagine if Congress instituted a tax on rainbow colored hair dye, or tattoos, for that matter?!

In the late 1700's, in the French court, elaborate themed wigs were in vogue, sometimes called "boat poufs", which included combed up extensions often set with pomades, powders and other ornaments. Here again, the fashion started to die as these coifs became symbolic of the decadence of French nobility, and quickly went by the wayside with the French Revolution, 1789. Politics can well play a roll in fashion! Think of the politics of long hair in the 1960's.

Care of wigs was most important. Head lice were everywhere, and "nitpicking" as it was called, was painful, time-consuming, and annoying to say the least. But, people will suffer for style, won't they!? Wigs, though, actually helped with the problem, as people cut their own hair very short, or shaved it off, and the lice stayed on the wigs instead. Ouch! I bet you thought they would be eliminated entirely. But, delousing a wig was easier. You would send your old infested wig to the wigmaker, who would boil it and Ta-dah!, remove the nits.

During the 170's, the cost of wigs continued to increase, and perukes became a scheme for flaunting wealth. The everyday wig generally at about 25 shillings, or a week's pay for a laborer. Elaborate and enormous creations ran upwards 800 shillings! Snobs were  described as "big wigs"!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Remembering Wolfgang

It has been awhile since I have written about Wolfgang Mozart, but recently I watched a wonderful BBC documentary on his life and works, and heard one piece in particular that made me want to go through my collection of CD's and bring Wolfgang back into the car with me, to listen to him "speak" as it were, as we drive along. I have not enjoyed that for a bit. And I say "speak", because he does speak to us through his music. We hear him jubilant or care-worn, lighthearted or serious. We understand his social and political views through his operas. We see how devoted he was through his spiritual religious works. Of course, we know that at the heights of his despair, he could write as if he was at a festive party. He really is a miracle, writing over 600 pieces of work that really define the Classical era, as well as being as relevant and fresh today as they day they came off his work table.

The piece that just grabbed me is the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major (K.488). Written on March 2, 1786, it is a mature work. Mozart was 34. He had encountered a good deal of life, personally and professionally, and this work, especially the second movement, the Adagio (sometimes called the Andante), has tremendous depth and longing. It is written in F-sharp minor, 6/8 time. It is the only work he wrote in that key. That same year, around that same time, he premiered Marriage of Figaro. This concerto, though, was on of three subscription concerts that Spring, and Mozart probably also played in it as well as conducted. The concerto is scored for piano solo and an orchestra consisting of one flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings. 

Give this beautiful adagio a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf711o8jAQA

Little did he know, that he would live only 6 years more. Sometimes I liken Wolfgang to a magnificent flame, burning extremely bright and white hot, and then all of a sudden, gone. But instead of being silenced, his incredible creation lives on as we listen to his work, and cannot deny that it touches our soul.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Bit of Nelson!

Tomorrow is the 210th anniversary of Royal Navy                                                                        Admiral Lord Nelson's death. Hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, he was killed at the confrontation's end by a French sniper's bullet. He died surrounded by his faithful officers, with knowledge that the British had won the battle, and the war with France was over. The date: October 21, 1805. Known for his aggressive boldness in battles and his many victories, he is considered one of the greatest military heroes of all time, not only of England, but of the world.

Here's an interesting bit: After his death, his pigtail, or queue as it is sometimes known, was cut off and sent to his mistress and true-love, Lady Emma Hamilton. The surgeon who was present at his death records that Nelson asked that Lady Hamilton should have his hair. Nelson's friend Vice-Admiral Thomas Hardy delivered it to Emma after the ship Victory arrived back in England. Small locks of the hair were given to family and close friends, and some of it was mounted in special mourning rings and broaches/lockets. Mourning jewelry was quite popular at the time. Hair was considered a particularly intimate gift.

Today, the pigtail resides in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, outside of London, England. It is part of the Greenwich Hospital Collection. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Tribute to Lord Nelson

Very soon now we will be remembering the famous Battle of Trafalgar, and the victory of the British Royal Navy under the command of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, and his unfortunate death. The historic date: October 21st, 1805. 

The battle took place off the Spanish coast at Cape Trafalgar. Using revolutionary tactics, Nelson planned the attack, having waited for the Spanish fleet to leave Cadiz. He achieved his greatest victory, annihilating the enemy and basically ending the long war between the French and Spanish against England. And yet, it was at greatest cost, a shot fired from on high from a French marine aiming at Nelson on the deck of Victory, Nelson's ship of the line. The bullet entered Nelson's left shoulder, going through his lung, and lodging in his spine between the fifth and sixth vertebrae. Four hours later, he was dead. Nelson was England's greatest hero. Personally, a flawed man, but historically accepted, one of the greatest commanders in all history.

One of the interesting things about naval battles from that time is that one must be carried on the wind and tide. There are no engines to rev up, no brakes to hit, no coming at the enemy going forward. One is at the mercy of the natural elements! That being said, the thing to do was to position the side of one's ship at the enemy, firing broadsides along the enemy' side, or better still, raking the stern with gunshots. This not only opened a gaping hole in the stern, but could take out the rudder, leaving the wounded ship no ability to steer.

So, the effect commander had to be one that "ANTICIPATED" the battle scene, trim sails ahead of the engagement to slow or speed progress, to judge the angle of the winds, the currents, etc. Nelson was a master at this, and proved it time and again. Now he was gone.

As Nelson's life slipped away, his vice-admiral Thomas Hardy, his loyal naval officer, stayed with him, having him removed from the decks, placing a handkerchief over his face to avoid alarming the crew. He was made comfortable, fanned and brought lemonade as he stated he was hot and thirsty. He asked that the Navy look after his beloved mistress Emma and his child by her, Horatia. His last words were "Kiss me, Hardy".  He knew he was dying, and wanted a departing kiss from his faithful officer.

His body was placed in  cask of brandy mixed with camphor and myrrh, and lashed to the Victory's mainmast, and a guard placed. Victory, sustaining some damage, was towed to Gibraltar after the battle, and the body was put into a lead-lined coffin filled with spirits of wine.

It is a good thing for us that the navy kept a log, and the history is documented. Eventually, Nelson was brought back to England. There was an enormous state-style funeral, most usually reserved for royalty. A mighty procession headed first up the Thames from Greenwich to Whitehall, then Whitehall by horse-drawn procession to St. Paul's Cathedral where he was buried in the famous crypt below the church. He was brought by six black horses, adorned with black plumes, the coffin mounted displayed on the horse-drawn carriage resembling the Victory.

Every year, the Cathedral holds a special 'Sea Service' on the Sunday closest to Trafalgar Day, when wreaths are laid at Nelson's tomb. He is remembered each year; unfortunately Emma, Lady Hamilton, was not provided for, but that's another day's story.

Friday, October 9, 2015

What'll it be? Tea or Coffee!

It's getting to be tea season again for me. The weather is changing, and I like a nice, hot cup of tea now and then.
I have put out the fall décor, including some pumpkins and fall leaves. It kind of calls for a pot of Earl Grey.

Tea has quite a history, but in the 18th Century, it continued to be a favored drink in Britian and Europe, even though coffee houses were starting to spring up everywhere. Of course, as you know, coffee houses became the pre-cursor of the stock exchange, but that's a story for another day.

Then, when tea in America was being enjoyed all over the Colonies, there came a big change! The Colonists revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George, and the rest is history! The Boston Tea Party helped change Americans into big coffee drinkers. I'm sure Starbucks would say thanks! I say thanks as well. There's just something about coffee. Where tea is a tasty thin brew, coffee is rich, and substantial (at least I think so).

Coffee has its beginnings in Africa, where the Oromo people were supposedly the first to recognize the energizing effects of the little bean! Eventually, it makes its way to Sheikh Omar, a man who supposedly cured the sick through prayer. He was exiled once to Mocha, Yemen where we lived on berries to stave off hunger. He found them bitter, but he tried roasting them, and ahhh! then boiled them, and there you have it!
By the 17th Century the Dutch obtained some of the seedlings, and the plants thrived in Batavia where they were growing them. They soon expanded to Sumatra.

Then, in 1714, the mayor of Amsterdam presented a coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France! The King had it planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. In 1723, naval officer Gabriel de Clieu obtained a seedling from the King's plant, and took it, not without great trouble and pirate attacks, to Martinique in 1750! Those plants are the ones from which coffee spread throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America!

Now, what'll it be? What'll you have? Tea or coffee!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Decorating for a Festival

Well, our annual Greek Food Festival is upon us again, and I have been in charge of decorating the grounds. Got me to thinking about how folks decorated for parties, holidays, event, in the 18th Century.
As we well know, in Colonial America, fruits and natural elements like pine cones, pine branches, nuts and seeds were used to make wreathes for Christmas holidays. Candlelight was employed in windows and outdoor lamp posts. The effect, which is still in use in Colonial Williamsburg to this day, is extremely effective.

During the 18th century, the art of floral design progressed to a state of perfection, with grand vases and garlands of fresh as well as artificial flowers. These artificial buds were made from silk or paper, and were known as French Flowers or Gum Flowers. If you think artificial flowers is a new concept, think again. Of course there were no plastic pozies, but who would want them anyway?!

Candlelight is always in fashion! In the 1700's, spermaceti, or oil produced by the sperm whale, was employed in candle production. It made a superior candle, but colza oil or rapeseed oils were also used, and were cheaper to manufacture.
Now days if we want a "glittery" look, we go with strings of mini lights, but there's nothing like candlelight to set a mood.

Of course, the display of food was also used for décor, showing an elaborate display of food in silver tureens is awfully inviting. This kind of thing happened at more palatial events. Gardens, architecture, pastoral scenes were recreated in sugar and sweetmeats, sometimes overwhelming the guests, like a dessert table described by William Farington in 1756:

"After a very Elligant Dinner of a great many dishes...The Table was Prepar'd for Dessert which was a Beautiful Park, round the Edge was a Plantation of Flowering Shrubs, and in the middle a Fine piece of water with Dolphins Spouting out water, and Deer dispersed Irregularly over the Lawn, on the Edge of the Table was all Iced Creams, and wet and dried Sweetmeats, it was such a Piece of work it was all left on the Table till we went to Coffee."

Our festival I don't think can compare, but it really is a picnic event, and I don't think people will be in satin and lace, unless of course, it's got a lot of cleavage and sets a provocative tone on the late night dance floor! haha

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Beaute Spot

My last purchase from my French vacation was a Christian Dior lipstick. How could you leave Paris without something

Then I started thinking about beauty products in the 18th Century. Both men and women in England and France wore cosmetics! As a matter of fact, cosmetics distinguished one as an aristocrat, and in fashion, or a la mode! Make-up was intended to look like paint, not a natural enhancement. And, typically, there was an aim to lighten the skin, as well as cover blemishes, hide defects, age, disease. In fact, "mouches" or beauty patches covered a multitude of sin, including pox marks. These little thin paper black tissues were applied right over the bad mark, later becoming known as a "beauty spot".
The face painting for the royals and other aristocrats of the French Court became kind of a formal toilette ritual, that particular courtiers were invited to view. However, cosmetics were not limited to upper society. Any bourgeois could participate. So, cosmetics began to rise in price and availability. Where the glitterati ran towards bold colors, the middle class tended toward pinks or softer tones. Rouge was applied in circular motions with fingers, rather than the brushes used today.English women were a bit more sedate, as portraiture of the 1750's and 60's indicates. They liked the more natural look, but hey, that's the Brits! The English are still best known for their country outing looks, where it's France that screams Haute couture.

By about 1781, French women used about two million pots of rouge a year! See a typical rough pot at right!
In the 1760's, vanity tables, or Coiffeuses, become the rate, and dressing rooms were built to face north to capture the best light.  

Blanc or white color could be make from bismuth or vinegar, and then veins traced with blue pencil to highlight the white. But, fashion can be a dangerous business. The white makeup that was so preferred and enjoyed was made from lead, leading to terrible accounts of lead poisoning. One famed English beauty, Kitty Fisher, died at age 23 from lead poisoning, in 1767.

Red makeup was made of vermilion, ground from cinnabar and mercury, or from creuse, made by exposing lead plates to the vapor of vinegar. These are both toxic.
But the fashion pendulum swings back and forth. What is considered fashionable one season, can be OUT, OUT, OUT the next. By the end of the 1700's, perhaps because of the Revolution, lipstick slipped out of fashion, and the painted look was relegated to actors and prostitutes. Ahh, how fickle is fashion!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Soul of the Forest

I was talking with a friend recently about my trip to Paris, and all the little luxuries that one might encounter along the way. Small indulgences that one must partake of in order to say, Yes, I
experienced Paris (or wherever) at its finest!

I found myself in a wonderful shop, Laduree, that has such things, including delicate macarons, wonderful chocolates, festively-colored Jordan almonds, and incense that gives off an aroma reminiscent of the palaces. Ahh! That was a must have, and I was all too happy to part with my last Euros! They also have Marron Glace!

Now that is something that you may like or not like, but rest assured, Marie Antoinette enjoyed! They are sweet chestnuts, and though their origin remains somewhere in the 17th Century, by 1798 they were noted in the 5th edition of the dictionary Dictionnaire de l'Académie françoise. Revu, corrigé et augmenté defined as a confit, or preserved, chestnut that is covered in caramel. In the book L'agronome, ou dictionnaire portatif du cultivateur from 1767 it reports that the best marrons came from the Dauphine region of southeastern France, and also contained instructions for preparing them.

They are an odd delicacy, and an acquired taste, but in the realms of royals, they are definitely the thing! And, they must be served in a serving piece of great dignity, and so Sevres Porcelain Factory, established in 1756, created special pieces just for the marron glaces. See below a piece with stand and cover, called the marroniere! 

This one is dated to 1757-58. The bowl even has little piercings that allow circulation of air, helping them to keep crisp and allow extra syrup served on them to drip away. Sevre served the demands of the French Court, and when it encountered financial difficulties, by Madame de Pompadour's suggestion, King Louis XV took control of the firm to keep it going! Good thing, too, cuz you'd not like to have your marrons served up on some average crockery. 

They are also known in other parts of Europe, and in Spain, for instance, they are known as the Soul of the Forest! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Parisian Delight

I am now back from my visit to France. It's rather difficult to sit at the desk when you have been in the company of Kings Louis, illustrious artists, and the general splendor of the "City of Lights". But, alas, C'est la vie. 

On my trip, I enjoyed many glasses of French wine, including some lovely roses, new to me, and partook of Normandy's regional Calvados. But, I did not have the pleasure of trying Ricard, though it was offered on the menu of most restaurants and bars. Not being particularly familiar with it (though I recognized the name), I decided to look into this distilled beverage. And, I find the following:

The company, formally known as Pernod Ricard was founded by Henri-Louis Pernod in 1797, opening his first absinthe distillery in Switzerland. He was of Franco-Swiss decent. He then produced Pernod Anise and Ricard Pastis, both anise-flavored liqueurs. In 1805, after absinthe was banned, Pernod founded Maison Pernod Fils in Pontarlier, Eranche-Comte in eastern France. Pernod Fils has become a worldwide conglomerate! Henri-Louis died in 1850, but his work lives on! Just one more reason to revisit Paris!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Machete v. Mascara

On August 20, two women graduated from the US Army Ranger School. They leave their mark as a new generation of women in combat roles. They are the first to complete in their combat leadership course, one of the hardest challenges, both mentally and physically for anyone.
They have trained in combat situations, been deprived of food and sleep, and all the particular rigors of becoming a full-on Ranger. They were held to the same standards as the men, with no compromises. It is quite an achievement.
But they are actually not the first to participate in combat for their country. Just the first to complete this level of training, and as declared women. There have been others but they had to hide, be dressed as male soldiers, in the American Revolution or other conflicts, with a few of them enlisting in disguise.

Anne Bailey, known as Samuel Gay, acted as a frontier scout, serving in the Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War. In 1791, she made a famous ride through the frontier to find much-needed gun powder to help secure the endangered Clendenin Settlement, later known as Charleston, WV.

Deborah Sampson, at left,  served in the Continental Army during the Revolution, serving for 17 months under the name Robert Shurtliff, of Uxbridge, MA, She was wounded in 1782, and later honorable discharged at West Point in 1783.   

Then, there was Hannah Snell, at right, an English woman, who joined the British Marines after the death of her daughter. Her unit sailed to India to capture the French colony of Pondicherry. She fought in a battle in Devicotta in June of 1749. She was wounded 11 times, once to the groin, and asked a sympathetic Indian nurse not to reveal her identity during treatment. She was honorably discharged in 1750.

The magnitude and extent of today's Ranger training makes people sit up and take notice, but relatively speaking, the accomplishments and service of these 18th Century women was just as bold. Personally, I don't have the constitution or inclination to lift a 180+ man through a muddy jungle. Or shave back my tresses or get rid of my mascara. It's not for everyone, but for those who want that kind of thing, I say why not. Women have taken their place in all walks of life previously only designated for men. Just don't give me a US President named Hilary this coming election.