Archive for July, 2014

Anglo-Saxon Summer: Armed and Dangerous

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

In the United States these days there’s all sorts of debate about the right to carry weapons in public.

The Anglo-Saxons had no such debate.

Anglo-Saxons carried knives, spears, swords, axes, and bows and arrows. As befitted a warrior culture, if you were a post-adolescent man, you were armed.

The spear was the most common weapon, and was carried by every class of citizen. Next was the axe. It came in many varieties: single hand axes, two-hand axes, throwing axes, and then some.

Swords were not very common, but all sorts of knives and daggers were in use, both for battle and for “domestic use” whatever that may be.  Almost every free Anglo-Saxon man had a “scramsax,” which was a single-bladed knife.

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That said, not everyone was allowed carry a weapon. Only freemen could be armed. If a slave was caught with a spear, it was legal to beat him with the wooden shaft of the spear until it snapped. Consider that an early version of gun control.

The Flying Dutchman!

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

It’s high summer camp season, the time of year when landlords decide to take things into their own hands after months of threats and orders to “Clean your room!”

Yes, if it weren’t for these annual trips to the landfill with comics and original Charizard Pokémon cards and vintage Stretch Armstrong figures, baseball cards wouldn’t be nearly as rare and valuable as they are today.

The most valuable baseball card in the world is worth roughly $2.8 million, and that is the 1909 trading card for the great Johannes “John” Peter “Honus” Wagner.

Wagner is known for his long career with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1900-1917) though he started in the majors with an American Association team called the Louisville Colonels (1897-1899).

“There ain’t much to being a ballplayer,
if you’re a ballplayer.”

Wagner is celebrated as one of the greatest players of all time; in 1936, he was in the very first group of five inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here is his speech when the charter members were inducted in 1939:

Ladies and gentlemen, I was born 1874, and this organization was started [in] 1876. When I was just a kid I said, “I hope some day I’ll be up there playing in this league.” And by chance I did.

Now Connie Mack the gentleman that preceded me here at the mike, I remember walking fourteen miles just to see him play ball for Pittsburgh. Walking and running, or hitchhiking a ride on a buggy, them days we had no automobile. 

I certainly am pleased to be here in Cooperstown today, and this is just a wonderful little city, or town, or village or whatever we’d call it. It puts me in mind of Sleepy Hollow.

However I want to thank you for being able to come here today.

(That’s Honus in the back wearing the S on his chest.)

(That’s Honus in the back wearing the S on his chest.)

A celebrity product endorsement was born when he became the first player to have his signature burnt onto a Louisville Slugger.

“I don’t make speeches.
I let my bat speak for me in the summertime.”

On July 29, 1915 Pirate Honus Wagner a/k/a The Flying Dutchman hit a grand slam. He was 41 years old at the time, which is 10-13 years older than the average age of a pro ball player today.

When he retired from baseball, Wagner held several jobs and became an entrepreneur; however as with most of the country, his fortunes were wiped out by the Depression.

Wagner returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a coach in 1933 and remained with his old ball club for 39 years. A statue in his honor was erected in front of the old Schenley Park, and then moved and rededicated at Three Rivers Stadium.

So let’s hear it for Honus Wagner, a man who knew how to make the most of every season.

Anglo-Saxon Summer: The First Post-Apocalyptic Society

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

After years of debilitating war or disease or environmental catastrophe, society crumbles.

Technological know-how is lost, people live in darkness and fear, and under constant threat of violence. Generations pass, the cities are abandoned, and people forget the past glories of their lost civilization as they struggle to scrape by.

Sounds like any number of post-apocalyptic stories you’ll see on TV or at the movies. But before there was Mad Max and The Walking Dead, there were the Anglo-Saxons.

The Roman Empire occupied what is now known as Great Britain (Britannia) for 400 years. To give you some context about how long Roman influence lasted, if you include Rome’s invasions under Julius Caesar, the Romans were in Britain about as long as Westerners have been in the Americas. It was a long time.

While they ruled Britannia, Romans established great cities  (such as Londinium), built great baths (such as those at Bath), built great roads (such as Roman Road), and built aqueducts (in St. Albans, Colchester, and elsewhere despite all that rain). The conquerors established economic systems and social structures, and they built a still-partially-standing wall up north (Hadrian’s) to keep out anyone who would threaten their rule.

But eventually Rome suffered a long and slow decline, and by around the year 440, they were unable to sustain the empire’s reach into Britain. The Emperor recalled the military to cope with persistent barbarian invasions elsewhere in the empire, and once the troops were gone, they never come back. Feelings were mixed about that. The remaining British Roman rulers had to resort to hiring Anglo-Saxon mercenaries to keep order and provide protection against all those pesky sea invasions they had in those days.

Sometime around 442 the Anglo-Saxons mutinied (remember: always pay your Anglo-Saxon mercenaries!); though the British Romans appealed for help, none was forthcoming from the Falling Roman Empire Formerly Known as Rising.

Years of fighting commenced, and it was Angles versus Saxons versus Picts versus Jutes versus Danes versus Frisians versus remaining Romans and even the bookies lost out.

In the midst of all that raiding and pillaging, the great Roman settlements were abandoned and fell into ruins. Roman science and technology was lost throughout Europe as the so-called “Dark Ages” began.

Britain, on the far outskirts of the empire, was especially “dark” during this time. Around the year 973, an Anglo-Saxon poet would write about Roman ruins (most likely the ruins of Bath) in the poem “The Ruin,” presuming that they were the remains of structures erected by giants. Not only were the skills and technology of the Romans lost to Britain, but more than 500 years after the Romans abandoned Britain, this Anglo-Saxon poet couldn’t even imagine that human beings were capable of building such structures.

The British would have to wait centuries before such achievements were possible for them again. Meanwhile, everyone kept their eyes peeled for giants.

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“the work of giants”

So let’s salute the Anglo-Saxons, the first great post-apocalyptic society!

TV in Terra Haute

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

On July 22, 1954, Terre Haute, Indiana got its first television station: WTHI.

Though WTHI has always been affiliated with CBS, in the early days it also aired shows from the other three networks: ABC, NBC, and DuMont.

Those were heady days!

1954 was the last year DuMont had programs on its schedule for all seven nights of the week, so WTHI was founded in time to see its last hurrah before it foundered and expired in 1956.

The ABC network’s Thursday night line-up included Kukla, Fran and Ollie (a puppet, a human, and a puppet, respectively), The Lone Ranger, and the great-great-great-grandparent of So You Think You Can Dance, a show called So You Want to Lead a Band that let audience members conduct a band and win prizes.

CBS was airing kiddie-pleasers like Lassie and unquestionably adult fare like the adaptation of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, Casino Royale (as part of a series called Climax!). Two shows that premiered in 1954 have lasted to this day: Face the Nation and Walt Disney’s first corporate foray into television, Disneyland.

The NBC offerings teemed with comedy, for instance Caesar’s Hour starring Sid Caesar and The Imogene Coca Show starring you-know-who, The Colgate Comedy Hour, a sitcom with Mickey Rooney, and the silly-and-surreal George Gobel Show. By the Fall, the schedule included Tonight Starring Steve Allen years (and decades) before Johnny (and not-Dave and Jay and Conan and Jay and Jimmy).

With all those Golden Age television series to choose from, what shows did WTHI broadcast?

Check your local listings… about 60 years ago.

Anglo-Saxon Summer: A Signature Libation

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Summer is a nice time of year for a signature cocktail, and since we’re writing about the Anglo-Saxons on the PhLog, we thought it would be nice to pay homage to our favorite Germanic peoples to occupy what is now known as Great Britain with a special cocktail.

We reached out to UPG consulting bon vivant Miriam Leuchter and mixologist Rush Kress to assist us in making an Anglo-Saxon-inspired drink.

Miriam and Rush’s tasting committee included the tasteful Helen Kim, the astute Adam Rosenberg, and the discerning L.M. Sorré. UPGistas Jay Stern and M. Sweeney Lawless joined for a secondary tasting and to deliver the UPG seal of approval. (Photos below are from the secondary tasting.)

Creating a Flavor Profile

To source potential drink ingredients, we looked at what we know about the Anglo-Saxon diet. Their food was simply seasoned with the kind of herbs and spices they could grow themselves. Mint, thyme, dill, fennel, hyssop, rosemary, sage, garlic, chives… that kind of thing. We wanted something to capture an earthy green herbal flavor to reflect these Anglo-Saxon seasonings. (Jay’s suggestion — using a few drops of the blood of your enemies — was determined to be impractical.)

We also wanted a slightly sweet component to this drink (after all, it is a summer cocktail) such as honey or a berry that could be found in England during the Anglo-Saxon era.

Choosing an Alcohol

The Anglo-Saxons drank a lot of alcohol, mostly in the form of ale and honey wine (a.k.a. “mead”). Because we didn’t want an ale-based beverage, and honey wine isn’t the best mixer or always easy to find, we decided to use a modern alcohol as a base.

The first drink the team attempted used various combinations of Elderberry liqueur and gin. This combination proved unpalatable without lemon. Lemon would have been a rarity in the Anglo-Saxon diet; in fact, it’s highly unlikely that most Anglo-Saxons ever saw a lemon, let alone tasted one.

The decision was then to try a whisky. Though whisky was not an Anglo-Saxon beverage, it is certainly enjoyed by their descendants so it seemed to be not too big of a stretch. Fortunately for us, it turns out that honey whisky is now a “thing,” so Rush and Miriam took that idea and ran with it.

We now present UPG’s great new summer cocktail:

Anglo-Saxon the Beach

Ingredients

2 oz. honey rye whisky*
2 oz. hard apple cider
2 drops celery bitters
splash of club soda
handful of fresh chives, chopped
one sprig of fresh thyme
plenty of ice

*If you can’t find whisky that’s already infused with honey, make a simple syrup using honey and add 1 tbsp. to 2 oz. of regular rye.

The ingredients.

The ingredients.

NOTE ON THE WHISKY: The first tasting team used Catskill Provisions New York Honey, which is a honey-flavored rye whiskey. For the secondary tasting, we opted in favor of something more readily available at your local liquor store, and went for Honey Jack Daniels. Honey Jack is technically classified as a honey liqueur, and it makes for a lighter cocktail that has a more dramatic chive-y taste. You may want to use one or two fewer sprigs of chives with honey liquor. A honey whisky, either store bought or homemade with honey simple syrup and rye, will have a deeper and more robust taste. We found both options to be delicious.

Directions

1. In a tall glass or cocktail shaker, muddle the chives with whisky.

Miriam hand picked chives from her back yard, much as an Anglo-Saxon might have done. We used four chives.

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Russ rolled the chives up into a tight ball and then chopped them, to maximize their muddling powers.

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Smush those chives!

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He used a spoon to muddle them, but you can use any blunt object. The Anglo-Saxons loved blunt objects.

We then added the whisky and stirred and mashed for a bit.

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Pouring in the whisky.

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Mashing it all up.

2. Add cider and two drops of celery bitters, and stir well.

We used a nice dry cider — dry goes a little better with chives — but a sweeter cider would work if you prefer a sweeter drink.

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Be careful with those celery bitters. Two drops will do it.

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3. Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.

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4. Top off with a splash of club soda (not low sodium) and give it a quick stir.

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5. Garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.

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6. Syntu!

cheers

Upon her first sip, UPGista M. Sweeney Lawless deemed the beverage “odd and good.” The chive-whiskey mix with the crispness of the cider and soda certainly makes for a refreshing, earthy beverage.

Enjoy it it with your own band of warriors.

This drink pairs perfectly with a sharp cheddar, Stilton, or other strong English cheese.

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Margarine! Margarine! Margarine!

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

On July 15, 1869, the French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès made a patent application for his delectable concoction of beef tallow, skimmed milk, sulfate of soda, margaric acid, and water – and thus was born our love/hate relationship with margarine.

Napoleon III had offered a prize for a cheap butter substitute and Mège-Mouriès won with his invention of “oleomargarine.” (Margaric acid was discovered by fellow Frenchman and chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, who named the pearly substance “acide margarique” after the Greek word for pearl: margarites).

No sooner was patent No. 86,480 issued than its owner attempted to capitalize on it; however, Mège-Mouriès found his invention a hard sell. Though butter was hard to come by in France (thanks to the Industrial Revolution’s migrations and the oil shortages of the Napoleonic Wars), people weren’t exactly lining up for the Mège-Mouriès gloop, so he sold it to Jurgens, a Dutch concern.

Since margarine in its unnatural natural state was white, the Dutch company hit on the idea of dyeing it yellow to resemble butter. Though this appealed to consumers, it did not impress the powerful dairy interests in, well, every country where margarine was ever introduced. Margarine has been banned, taxed, protested, and spawned thousands of pieces of legislation concerning its ingredients. Did we say margarine has been made with whale oil? Margarine has been made with whale oil. Everyone, all together: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Blubber.

Yes, it’s odd that a genuine Frenchman in the land of culinary excellence was responsible for the invention of margarine, but rest assured that compared to the rest of us, France has never manufactured or eaten much of the stuff.

As for Mège-Mouriès, he died broke and in obscurity in 1880.

The Dutch company that originally bought his patent went on to become part of Unilever, manufacturer of that great-great-grandchild of oleomargarine: something called “spread.”

Anglo-Saxon Summer: Many Ways to Die

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Hey, Everybody, let’s make it an

ANGLO-SAXON SUMMER!

It’s summer! What better time to post about one of our favorite Germanic peoples to gain prominence in what is now known as Great Britain? (Sorry, Jutes and Frisians, but you’re so last summer.)

Why is summer such a great time to get your Anglo-Sax on?

Anglo-Saxons liked beaches! We presume! Anyway, they certainly were always landing on beaches! You know – on their way to invading places!

Anglo-Saxon England was a warrior society. It was the time of the Vikings, and thanks to those constant Viking raids across the British Isles, everyone was pretty much fighting everyone all the time.

Since the Anglo-Saxons were a fighty people in a fighty time, violence was commonplace and glorified in language and poetry. Anglo-Saxon literature celebrates their warrior ethos.

Speaking of Anglo-Saxons, the Anglo-Saxons spoke, well, Anglo-Saxon, a Germanic language that sounds Scandinavian to modern ears. We don’t know a huge amount about the Anglo-Saxon language (also known as “Old English”) because it wasn’t a very literate time, and those who were literate tended to write in Latin.

But we do have enough of their writings to be able to understand and appreciate their language today. The Bible was translated into Anglo-Saxon. The Venerable Bede wrote a history of England in Anglo-Saxon. There were other official writings, religious works, and even a few books of riddles written in Anglo-Saxon (more about those in a future post).

And let’s not forget that the oldest epic poem we have in English was the work of an Anglo-Saxon. Some dainty ditty about tea? Get a grip, Cupcake, this was the mighty tale of hero-versus-monsters: Beowulf. Not just one monster, mind you –– THREE: a monster, a mother of a monster, and a dragon! Beowulf was the Destroy All Monsters of its day.

So many of the Anglo-Saxon documents we have are poetic that we might have a way-more-poetic understanding of the language than everyday Anglo-Saxons used. For instance, we have words like hwælweg (literally “whale-way”) for “ocean.” Though it may or may not reflect common speech, this poetic language does tell us something about the life and times of the Anglo-Saxons – and who doesn’t sound cooler talking about the whale-way?

Some of their words (and poetry and coolness) has been handed down to us. For instance, their word for “death”: “déaþ.” The last letter is a “thorn” which comes from the old Norse runic alphabet and is pronounced “th.” So you can see it’s quite similar to our Modern English word. But the similarity ends when you find out the Anglo-Saxons thought a lot more about death than we did, and the proof is that there are many, many more Anglo-Saxon words for death – and these are only the ones we know about. Here’s  a small sample, courtesy of www.oldenglishtranslator.co.uk.

beaducwealm: violent death
bealusíð: hurt adversity death
ásprungnes: failing exhaustion death eclipse
cwealmdréor: blood shed in death
cwalu: killing murder violent death destruction
cwylming: suffering tribulation metaphorically cross death
déaþbéam: death-bringing tree a death-tree tree of death

Yup, sure was a lot of violent death back then. The Anglo-Saxons didn’t mess around. Or, rather, they did… violently. Life was no day at the whale-way.

Happy Birthday, Artemisia Gentileschi!

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

It’s the 8th of July, and you know what that means: time to celebrate Artemisia Gentileschi’s birthday!

Artemisia Gentileschi's "Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting" 1630s

Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting” – 1630s

This early Baroque painter was born in Rome to a painting family (her father was painter Orazio Gentileschi and her brothers painted).

Early in life, she suffered a series of misfortunes: she lost her mother at an early age, her painting was so accomplished she was accused of being helped by her father, art academies would not accept her, then she was assaulted by the man her father hired to tutor her (not to mention the many violations and indignities she withstood in the course of the trial).

After she won her case – that is, her father’s case, given contemporary Italian law – Gentileschi went on to marry another artist and have two daughters (both painters).

She moved to Florence, where she was the first woman accepted to the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, and where she found colleagues among the most renowned artists of her time. Commissions followed, cash followed – she was even pen pals with Galileo!

Unfortunately, her art could not keep her husband in the manner (or the manor) to which he had become accustomed and before long, his spending outpaced her income. After the death of her patron Cosimo II de’ Medici in 1621, Gentileschi had a parting of the ways with her husband and left Florence.

Gentileschi returned to Rome, but the years there were not as rewarding – financially or otherwise. In 1630, she moved to Naples, where her paintings were commissioned for cathedrals and museums and the homes of wealthy patrons. She lived in England from 1638 to 1641 at the court of Charles I (where she assisted her father with a commission to paint Queen Henrietta’s residence), but afterward she returned to Naples, where she died in 1656.

Though her early works were Caravaggesque, Gentileschi developed her own painting style and an unusual (for women painters, anyway) forcefulness of expression.

She was one of the most formidable painters – and most independent women – of her time.

Happy Birthday, Artemisia Gentileschi!

I yam what I yam an’ tha’s all I yam!

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Segar Popeye

In January of 1929, a squinty sailor made a cameo in “Thimble Theater,” the daily strip Elzie Crisler Segar drew for the New York Journal. By July, the sailor had muscled his way into a leading role, as E.C. Segar acknowledged in “Thimble Theater – Starring Popeye the Sailor.”

Though Popeye was a gambler, a smoker, and a brawler, he redeemed himself with salt-of-the-earth wisdom a love of canned spinach… that gave him extra energy for another fistfight, usually with his enemy, Bluto a/k/a Brutus.

Popeye proclaimed his bravery (“I yam not ascared of no man on Eart’.”) as readily as his finer feelings (“Ol’ ‘Salty’ Bill Barnacle – I yam so glad to see ya, I got to hug ya!”) and was sensitive to disrespect (“Well blow me down. The way they treats me is something scandilum!!”)

E.C. Segar brought us to an off-kilter world populated by odd, scrappy characters – Bernice the whiffle hen, Eugene the Jeep, Alice the Goon of Goon Island, the Sea Hag and Bernard the vulture, and that hamburger moocher, (J. Wellington) Wimpy.

However, from the moment we met Popeye, we identified with the oddest, scrappiest character of all: “I’m only a common sailor but I got sensitivity.”