Posts Tagged ‘cruelty’

April is the Cruelest Month: Tomás de Torquemada

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

In honor of the opening line of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, this April we are celebrating cruelty on the PhLog.


Today’s cruel person is none other than Tomás de Torquemada, the man who started the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. Wielding complete authority, Torquemada tortured and murdered tens of thousands of Spanish Jews and perceived heretics. His network of spies turned friends and families against each other as his drive to root out these heretics became all-consuming. Fun fact: Torquemada’s violent animosity towards Jews (and boy, was it violent) was complicated by the fact that Torquemada was descended from Jewish converts to Catholicism. Guess he took that self-hating thing pretty far.

Torquemada’s violent torture and murder of the people of Spain was so extreme that Pope Alexander VI tried to restrain the Inquisition. For a pope in that era to restrain you, you know you have to be pretty cruel.

Yet things worked out fine for Torquemada. He lived to a ripe old age and died peacefully. His bones were stolen in 1832 and burned in protest, so there’s some justice somewhere we suppose.

April is the Cruelest Month – A Signature Drink

Friday, April 24th, 2015

April is cruelty month on the PhLog and we thought the topic was deserving of a signature cocktail.

Once again, we reached out to mixologist and UPG friend Miriam Leuchter for assistance. Our tasting committee consisted of UPGers Jay, Meg and Jennifer, and Adam Rosenberg, who was also on the tasting committee for our Anglo-Saxon the Beach.

Miriam took her inspiration from the opening lines of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Miriam was taken by the idea of flowers emerging from death, dull roots in the spring rain. So bitter with a little floral.

Miriam wanted a Campari base, since she considers Campari to be a particularly cruel beverage. It looks delightful and pink and sweet but it is actually very bitter. The first time Miriam tried it, she was shocked and dismayed after taking her first sip.

Just like early Spring, appearances can be deceptive.

So, without further adieu, we present our signature drink for Cruelty Month.

The Cruellest Month (with thanks and apologies to T. S. Eliot)


1 part Campari
1 part Dutch genever
½ to 1 part ginger liqueur
lavender sprigs (make sure it’s edible lavender)
edible flowers (including lilacs if possible)

We tried this drink two ways: straight up and on the rocks.

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.

Add 1 part Campari.


Next, add 1 part Dutch genever. We used a barrel-aged genever, which is nice for a little oaky flavor, and helps the flavor of the genever stand out from the bitterness of the Campari. But any genever will do.


Then add ½ to 1 part ginger liqueur to taste. You can use less if it’s a sweeter ginger liqueur. This drink should be a bit bitter with a promise of sweetness underneath. We used Canton ginger liqueur, which is a little sweeter since it is also made with cognac, so ½ part worked well, especially for those of us who prefer a more bitter drink. But by the end we were all drinking it in equal parts to the Campari and genever.


Shake vigorously, and then (for the straight up version) pour into a cocktail class. Stir with a sprig of lavender and then skewer an edible flower with the lavender sprig.



For a version on the rocks, freeze edible flowers in the ice.



This is one of April’s cruelties – a late frost can freeze the Spring flowers. One wonderful benefit to the rocks version of this drink is that as the ice begins to melt, the flowers are released and the drink becomes more fragrant.



If the drink is a bit too syrupy for you, which it can be depending on the type of liqueur you use, add a splash of tonic water or seltzer.

Alongside the drinks, Miriam served pâté, which is a rather cruel dish, especially if you spring for foie gras. If you want to be really cruel, you can substitute veal for the pâté.


Miriam also served salmon caviar on endive with crème fraîche. The bitter-wet-creaminess was a nice pairing with the bitter-sweet-floral Waste Land.


And there you have it – a cruel drink for April with the promise of cruel hangovers if you drink 2 or 3 of them.

April is the Cruelest Month: Theater of Cruelty

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

In honor of the opening line of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, this April we are celebrating cruelty on the PhLog.

Today we’re posting about Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty.

French actor and dramatist Antonin Artaud wanted to create a form of theater that would radically break with existing theatrical conventions. Artaud disdained productions based on established forms and literary texts, and felt that theater was pacifying audiences when it instead needed to challenge them. Artaud thought theater shouldn’t be an escape from the world, but a place where mankind’s deepest fears are exposed and presented viscerally in front of a terrified audience. Artaud wanted the audience to suffer, and felt that every element of theater should increase a sense of danger for the audience.

Artaud wasn’t necessarily a sadist though. He wanted audiences to confront the terrifying darkness inside themselves, not for the sake of suffering itself, but in order to become liberated from repressions. Cruelty wasn’t an act of violence to Artaud, but rather a way to “wake up” a sedated society. Technical elements such as sound, design, props and lighting would be used to replace text. Language would be replaced by shouts and screams, since Artaud thought language was an insufficient medium to express trauma.

By assaulting the audience’s senses, theater could reach the unexpressed emotions of the unconscious. Artaud wrote that “theater has been created to drain abscesses collectively,” and this is what he aimed to achieve (figuratively) with his Theater of Cruelty.

Artaud in "Les Cenci."

Artaud in “Les Cenci.”

Artaud only managed to stage one production with this approach, and, as you might imagine, it didn’t run very long. However, Artaud’s theories, mapped out in his book The Theater and Its Double survived him, and although probably impossible in practice, inspired the great European avant-garde theater of the 60s and 70s and continue to influence directors today.

April is the Cruelest Month: Children

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

In honor of the opening line of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, this April we are celebrating cruelty on the PhLog.

Who are the cruelest animals on the planet? Human children!

From playground taunts to spitballs to pranks to bullying to shunning and even to physical torture (viz, the “game” of Punch Bug), children are the meanest creatures you’ll ever meet, especially when they’re in groups.

Kids play pinching games and slapping games. They dare each other to do things that they shouldn’t and shame them when they refuse. They cause bodily harm by administering knuckle-hammering “shots” and “sunburns” (called “Indian burns” back in our day, because in our day, kids were also racist).

Throughout history, children have been viewed as mini-adults. This is pretty accurate if you have a pessimistic view of humanity.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that there’s no recorded instance of a child making someone eat their brussels sprouts before they can leave the table or denying anyone a job based on political affiliation. That only means they’re not organized enough and don’t really have a flair for advanced politics.

So join us today in saluting the kind of cruelty that comes in small packages.


April is the Cruelest Month: Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

In honor of the opening line of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, this April we are celebrating cruel people on the PhLog.


Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed was so cruel that Bram Stoker supposedly used her as an inspiration for the character of Dracula. Born in 1560, her noble status kept her safe for a while from persecution for crimes. And boy, they were big ones. Báthtory is considered to be one of the most prolific serial killers in history. She lured young peasant girls to her castle with the promise of work, only to trap them, torture them hideously, and then kill them. Báthory was even said to bathe in the blood of her victims.

Although rumors about her behavior spread throughout Hungary, it wasn’t until Báthory started going after young noblewomen that the authorities did anything about it. At her trial, Báthory was convicted of murdering 80 peasant girls, although the number she is believed to have murdered could be as high as 600.

For a single individual without an army or police force to back her up, Báthory’ cruelty was impressively effective. She spent the last four years of her life imprisoned in bricked-in chambers of her castle. Which is also kind of cruel. But she did deserve it.

April is the Cruelest Month: Maximilien Robespierre

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

In honor of the opening line of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, this April we are celebrating cruel people on the PhLog.

Today’s post is a biggie – the cruelest of the cruel people in a cruel time: Maximilien Robespierre.


Robespierre started out perfectly fine. As a young reformer and revolutionary, he opposed cruel things such as slavery and the death penalty. But once he gained power, that life was over. Robespierre was the architect of the Reign of Terror, which led to the executions of tens of thousands of people without trial, including some of Robespierre’s friends and family. Everyone was potentially an enemy to Robespierre, and what did he do to his enemies? He slaughtered them mercilessly.

Robespierre’s cruelty is notable for its intense brevity. The Reign of Terror lasted a mere 10 months, but the body count and legacy of destruction was huge. Unlike most of the cruel people we’ll be writing about this month, Robespierre met some sort of justice – arrested and sentenced without trial, just like his victims, Robespierre was executed by guillotine, his preferred instrument of terror during his bloody reign.