A European Sort of Morning

A summer morning dawned with the usual slanted light as the sun moved north. Crisp, chilly air with a hint of flowers/urban scent/hardness eased in through the part-open window. The hour was early. At least two hours would pass, perhaps more, before it was time for breakfast. For a moment I thought I was in Central Europe.

Nope, still in the High Plains. It was a strong reminder of just how much the little details set the scene, in this case the light and the “feel” of the morning air.

I’ve spent so many Junes on the road to various places that I’ve become attuned to the differences in light. Out in the desert southwest, sunrise is at least an hour earlier than back home, wherever home happened to be at the time. So I’m up and about well before the Hour of Food, trying to sneak around so I don’t wake up those who are sleeping the sleep of the just. It’s a good time to go stretch one’s legs, take photos before the light gets too direct and harsh, and have a moment of quiet time with the birds. The wildlife, however, does require due care and consideration. The light is clear, with edges, often chilly and always dry.

Central Europe . . . In the cities, the hint of diesel exhaust is one of my markers, because trucks are only allowed to do deliveries early in the mornings. Cool soft air, full of moisture unless a cold front has passed, covers everything. The light is soft, filtered by clouds or humidity, and begins very early. By 0500 I can read without turning on the lights in the room (most of the time. Not always.) By 0530 I need a hat and long-sleeves when I venture out. Often the place is still and calm, with birds and perhaps the distant rumble of early traffic the only sounds. No, I take that back. A soft, steady Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh of a broom on cement and stone reaches my ears as an older woman in the faded floral-print uniform of matrons all over that part of Europe sweeps in front of her house or family business. We ignore each other as I pass, as one does. If she acknowledges me, I smile back. The city or town or hotel grounds are mind to meander as I please. No babble of voices comes from the market square, save on market days. The river or town stream murmurs in liquid tones as it dances through the little channels in the streets, or along its bed where the wall once stood.

Sometimes, that same light, the same cold late-spring air washes over the Texas panhandle, and for a moment I’m in a different place.

Food and Taboos

“Fish is brain food.”

“Fish will make you cold and slow and will block medicine power.”

“If it doesn’t have fins and scales, it is unclean.”

Don’t compliment a baby or you will bring down the evil eye. Don’t sit so that the sole of your shoe or the bottom of your foot is pointed at someone. Don’t touch someone on the head lest you interfere with their chi. Don’t eat within one hour before going swimming. Women shouldn’t bathe during . . .

Every culture has things that Must Not Be Done. Some of them seem odd to outsiders, and on occasion, even those inside the culture can’t explain precisely why you Don’t Do That. When anthropologists and folk-lore students start finding patterns, well, then it gets interesting.

Many Plains Indian peoples had taboos about fish – don’t eat them. Either they are just bad luck, or their are bad for medicine power, or they will make you slow, or . . . Up and down the Great Plains of North America, freshwater fish were taboo. Which made ethnographers wonder what the connection was, since these groups all moved to the Plains at different times, and had somewhat different cultures. What probably made fish bad news was the lack of fat. Most parts of the Great Plains, especially the western parts, lack carbohydrates but have lots of lean-meat protein sources. Eating too much lean meat without access to fats and carbohydrates can lead to medical problems, and that may be the origin of the prohibition. Season-dated Paleoindian bison kills show a preference for females in the fall (when they are fattier than males), but males in the spring (when females are far leaner than males.) Some archaeologists have speculated that rules of hunting might have included taboos, although we can’t tell.

The Jewish and Muslim rules about not eating pork are probably the best known food taboos in the western world, although they are not identical. Jewish rules hold pork to be unclean, but pigs may be raised and sold to outsiders. In an emergency, pork may be consumed if the alternative is starvation. Finding a package of bacon on the front step of a synogogue does not render the place of worship ceremonially unclean. The same is not true of a mosque. Pork and pigs are abominations in Islam, and are to be avoided at all costs.

Many food-related taboos are tied in with ideas of ritual purity and cleanliness. Insects and things that creep on the ground may be “dirty.” Likewise many cultures have a ban on consuming carrion eaters, because they eat decayed (and thus corrupt and unclean) flesh. For the Comanche, fish are unclean, and they won’t eat dog because Coyote is close to dogs. Other Indian peoples have no problem with consuming dog meat (the Cheyenne and Maya, for example) but the Kiowa eschew bear meat.

Ritual cleanliness also places a lot of limitations on women of child-bearing age. A woman having her menses is often ritually unclean, or might have the unfortunate ability to break medicine-power or certain blessings. In some cases, women were strictly confined away from sunlight and the rest of society, under the strict care of a post-menopausal woman, until their cycle had finished. In other cultures, the rule was that women of child-bearing age could not go near where the shaman or medicine man lived. Sometimes, women were to avoid hunters for a set number of days before a major hunt, to ensure that hunting magic would remain strong, and that the “scent” (real or spiritual) of blood would not contaminate the hunters and scare away the game.

Some cultures have a lot more taboos than do others. Entire slices of society might be under strict limitations because of a caste system, to the point that if the shadow of a certain person touches the possessions of a different person, the offender is to be executed for polluting the one of higher rank or spiritual authority.

The west doesn’t have as many religious taboos as many cultures, although we certainly have unspoken customs and limitations. Don’t talk about your income or job. Don’t tell dirty jokes or swear in mixed company. Certain cuts of clothing are not suitable for daytime or business attire. Don’t forget to leave a tip for a waiter or waitress, unless the service has been truly terrible. Men should remove their hats when entering a place of worship unless that faith requires the head to be covered. Don’t talk about sex, religion, or politics at the supper table. (Note that “religion” can include college or professional athletics in some parts of the country.)

And never, ever comment on a no-hitter baseball game in progress, or a smooth ride on a flight, or say anything like, “Boy, this equipment test is going really well!” Every fan, pilot, and tech or engineer will turn well-deserved wrath upon thee.

For an intriguing academic look at food taboos around the world:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2711054/

The World Outside of One’s Head

There’s nothing quite like reading about the modernists in Vienna in the period of 1870-1914 to remind the reader that some people just needed to get out more often. Granted, a number of the characters had serious mental problems, medical problems, marital problems, or all-of-the-above. That didn’t help their view of the world. But yipes, the circle around Freud, Schiele, Mahler, and Co. was so small. I hadn’t realized that until a very good art history tour through the Leopold Museum, where the docent explained all the interrelations. You really wonder what would have happened if some folks had gotten outside of the world of their own head, and had to deal with real problems (as in Four Horsemen problems. See Vienna, October 1914-November 1919 for examples.)

A few weeks ago, I was reminded that the world inside of my head, and inside my daily round, is very different from the real world. Rehearsal was long, and difficult, and breakfast had worn off about half-way through. So I stopped at a What-a-Burger halfway between the concert site and home. I went in and got a patty melt, fries, and a shake. And sat, happily chewing away, listening to country music, and observing normal people and a very efficient and friendly restaurant staff.

A family with small kids was eating in the corner, and the kids did kid stuff, including an older toddler sending a large water sailing off the end of the table just as they finished eating. The parents apologized, the manager said “no problem, we got this,” and she got the mop as the parents tidied the table and ushered their offspring out. A customer moved a chair or two out of the way. Everyone else just shrugged, and said, “Little kids happen.”

There was a trainee working the cash register, and people on both sides of the counter were patient. She tried hard, got things 95% right, and was cheerful. No one gave her a hard time. After all, we all have to learn sometime, and we’ve all been the new person.

The diners were a cross section of the world. Little kids to “seasoned citizens,” solitary diners (yo) and families, different colors and sizes, all interested in a hot hamburger or chicken sandwich. Lots of smiles, using french fries as pointers, and so on.

I spend a lot of my time in my own head. This is in part because of the demands of Day Job and of writing. It is in part because DadRed insists on doing all the shopping (he’s retired. I’m not. I believe in batch cooking. MomRed is Not A Fan of leftover leftovers.) It is in part because I’m an introvert, and in part because my default mental position is “What will go wrong and how do I plan for it?” That’s not exactly normal. Getting out and about, dealing with other people in stores and at burger joints and all doesn’t happen much. Day Job, concert prep, Easter prep, Day Job, writing, that had been my world for too long. I needed to get out and see the real world.

There’s a danger in a closed system, be it mental, political, or ecological. Here’s to the world outside of our heads.

Walpurgisnacht

Tonight, the eve of the feast of St. Walburga (Walpurga), it is said that the witches of Germany gather on the Brocken, a mountain in the Harz. The night is held by many in Europe to be uncanny, for various reasons. Modest Mussorgsky wrote a tone-poem about this, “The Night on the Bare Mountain.”

Holy Roman Empire: Obstruction or Dead Weight?

That seemed to be the question historians of Central Europe asked in the Twentieth Century. At least until a new generation started waving their hands and saying, ” ‘Scuze me, but if it was so bad, why was it kept around after 1648, and why did the members vote to dissolve it rather than allow Napoleon to try to claim the title?” Institutions that serve no purpose, and have become a drag on society, don’t survive shocks like the Thirty Years War. Maybe the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation wasn’t the drag on society that earlier writers had declared it to be.

The “problem” of the H.R.E. goes back to Rousseau, and to the rise of the Prussian German Empire in the late 1800s. Rousseau, a French philosophe, seems never to have met an institution that he could tolerate. The French Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, attracted a great deal of his ire, and he is the one who declared that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. He also helped give us the idea that the three monotheisms lived in peace and harmony under the rule of the Moors in Iberia for 700 years, until the abusive Castilian Catholics took over in 1492. Oh, and he gets credit for the idea of the General Will, which passed through some Prussian philosophers (Germany didn’t exist yet), was picked up by Marx and a few others, and went downhill from there.

The “problem” of the H.R.E. then passed to Berlin. After Napoleon, the much enlarged Hohenzollern kingdom of Prussia-Brandenburg vied with the Habsburgs of Austria-Hungary for domination of Central Europe. The Habsburgs had turned their attention more east than north, and had their hands full dealing with the Ottomans (still.) They also had difficulties with the growing tensions of nationalism in a multi-ethnic empire. This left an opening for Prussia. As Prussia gained more and more power north of the Alps, historians and politicians both sought for justifications to explain why Prussia was more German than Austria was. If Prussia was more German, than it just made sense for Prussia to be the senior partner in running the German (and Polish, and Czech) speaking parts of Europe. Rousseau’s indictment filled the bill, and was expanded by academic historians.

The H. R. E. had been a valuable and useful institution at first. Upon that all agreed. Certainly as late as the 1200s, perhaps into the late 1500s, having a place where disputes could be settled, defenses organized, and culture encouraged made excellent historical sense. Since, at that time, Vienna and the Habsburgs had the older history, having them run things for a while posed no problems. However . . . Once the Reformation kicked in, and the corrupt—or just misguided—Catholic Church encouraged the emperors to prevent the natural growth and development of Lutheranism, it was time for a change. The Thirty Years War certainly, per the Berlin historians, should have been the end of the HRE. A real empire needs a strong emperor who can exercise tight central control, after all, and that certainly was not, oh, Leopold II, or Maria-Theresa. Frederick II of Prussia was a better model for a true emperor. Fast-forward to 1820, and it was obvious to the pro-Prussian school that the northern German Protestant kingdom really was the true inheritor of Germanitas, of all that made one truly Deutsch, and the Habsburgs should have gone quietly into the twilight of history.

I’m glossing a LOT of politics and academic debate and writing. There were always historians who either 1) felt the HRE should have died with Louis the German or with Frederick Barbarossa or 2) thought that the Austro-Hungarian empire wasn’t as bad as all that. However. American academics studied in Germany, not Austria, and we based our academic system on Berlin, not Vienna. For their part, the Austrians had other fish to fry, and anyone who is familiar with Vienna and that part of the world in the late 1800s-1914 knows that the place was going a bit round the bend in terms of culture and identity crises. It didn’t help in the 1920s when the groups that conflated culture with race with really bad social-Darwinism declared that the northern “Aryans” were, in fact, the true Germans and rightful leaders of Europe and the world.

The H.R.E. as “dead weight” got folded into post-WWII questions about “What the heck happened that Germany went insane while the rest of Europe became civilized? And how do we keep anyone from going that nuts ever again?” The Berlin School (as I call it) of academic history came to dominate for several academic generations, which then trickled down into popular history. I really didn’t start seeing English-speaking historians saying, “Um, hold on a moment. What do the documents say?” until the late 1990s and even more into the early 2000s. Then the “Vienna School” scholars began producing articles and monographs in support of a reappraisal of the Habsburgs and of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

As you know, I’m a bit of a buff for the Holy Roman Empire, both the region and the institution. It served a very important purpose for a very long time, and if it wasn’t a “real” empire with a central, all-powerful leader, well, that was probably one of its strengths as well as a weakness. The institution served some purpose, and was regarded with respect even in it’s declining years, much like the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef in the late 1800s. It was an intriguing place and institution.

Hungarian Goulash

In Hungarian, “gulyas” refers to certain traditional breeds of native cattle. So the dish made from parts of cow is also called “cow.” The Germans and others modified the spelling, and Americans call it goulash. It is a beef soup made with paprika, beef, onions, and either potatoes or flat noodles, and other spices. There are a large number of variations on the dish, some with tomato paste added, others with hot peppers (go easy on those), more or less garlic, and other vegetables. Viennese Goulash includes bell pepper, unless it doesn’t. Goulash as I ate it in Hungary was a hearty soup, not a thickened stew, but however you make it, you need meat, paprika, and onions. No, this is NOT an excess of onions. Trust me. They vanish.

two pounds good stew meat

two large onions, minced (I use white because that’s what’s been available)

two carrots (if desired) chopped

fat or oil for browning

1 T. good paprika, hot or sweet*. (I go heavier on the paprika)

2 C potato, chopped into chunks, OR one package flat noodles

1 dollop of garlic

beef broth

one or two glugs** red wine (optional)

In a large stew pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil or fat to a shimmer. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the stew meat and garlic (if desired). Add beef stock and water to cover, and the wine if desired. Stir in paprika and carrot. Reduce heat to simmer and let cook for 90 minutes or so. Check the flavor after about half an hour and add paprika if needed or desired. Add water as needed, or more broth. If you are using very inexpensive (tough) stew meat, cook as long as needed to reach tenderness.

If using potatoes, add after 90 minutes and let simmer for another half hour or until potatoes are done. For pasta, turn up heat, add more liquid, and add pasta. Check pasta after 20 minutes or so. Alternatively, cook potatoes or pasta separately, drain, and add to goulash for the last 10 minutes.

Serve in bowls with good, hearty bread or sharp slaws and salads on the side. Or both.

*Hungarian sweet is traditional. Smoked or hot can also be used, but I prefer to start with the Hungarian sweet.

**A glug seems to be about a quarter cup, depending on the size of the bottle and the duration of pour.

How to End Rehearsal Early

Open-air summer theater is popular in Germany. Productions range from local history to sort of “Ren-fest” to US-style musicals (Grease appears every summer, Candide is well liked.) The town of Schwäbish Hall is no exception to this. The long, curved stairs leading from the Marktplatz (market plaza) up to St. Michael’s Church form a good backdrop and stage, and shows are held four or five nights a week, weather permitting. My hotel room faced part of the steps, but unless I wanted to pay for a ticket, I was supposed to close the drapes and not watch. And yes, someone with binoculars kept track of rooms occupied vs. rooms occupied and with ticket. I kept the drapes closed.

The church and steps. Creative Commons Fair Use. From: https://monkeysandmountains.com/destinations/travel-europe/travel-germany/

The weather that summer was cool and somewhat damp, with light rain every few days. This deterred neither the actors, who probably appreciated the cooler temperatures, nor the audience. Apparently it did reduce beer consumption, which the Biergartens [beer gardens] didn’t like, but “It’s not as bad as 2013.” (It stayed in the 50s-60s F well into late June. Some Biergartens never opened.) The show went on, although some dance numbers had both dry-weather and wet-weather versions, to allow for the slicker footing on wet stone and wet wooden platforms.

I’d been out and about in the morning, visiting museums and poking around all over the place, especially those corners where tourists didn’t go, starting at around 0530. The joys of June in northern latitudes, when sunrise comes very, very early. That afternoon, as I explored St. Michael’s church, it started to rain. Then storm. Frog-strangling, small-stream-flooding, garbage-can-floating rain. I finished in the church and raced across to my hotel, wrung out in the foyer under the watchful eye of the older woman at the desk, and retreated to my room to write and dry off. Did I mention it was pouring rain? No wind to speak of, but very heavy showers.

The cast of the musical was blocking the next show, despite the rain. The director had a large umbrella, under a small tent. I watched as I wrote. The young singers/dancers walked through several scenes, growing wetter and wetter, clothes plastered to them, hair wet. Still, rehearsal went on.

Crack BOOOOMMM! I jumped and the cast of the musical ducked. The thunder echoed a little off the stones of the square and church. After a moment, the actors got back to their feet and resumed.

CRACK BOOM!

The sound person waved his hands frantically. The director waved her hands back. The cast scattered for cover. After a brief pow-wow, the sound person sealed up the sound booth, lowered the tent flaps, and fled like the sensible person he was. Something about electricity, lightning, and being higher than many of the surrounding buildings.

Storms continued to roll through that night. No show. The risk of electrocution and lightning-strike overrode the lost ticket sales.

I had to laugh . . .

So there, I was, driving Down State to visit friends last week. I could see the smoke of a grass or range fire a long time before I got close. I also had a CD in the stereo(Ghostlights by Avantasia).

Just as I got into the smoke, close enough to smell that it was mostly grass with a little brush, the chorus of “Babylon Vampyres” began.

Babylon is burning, shining from afar
Babylon is burning
From sunset to sunrise
Babylon is burning
and you‘re glowing like a fiery star
And no one can tell if we’ve been for real
Yeah

(Tobias Sammet “Babylon Vampyres”)

I laughed. The timing was just too perfect. Yes, the Universe has quite a sense of humor!

Seven Modern Masters: Japanese Prints

I have a soft spot for Japanese art, be it brush painting, metal work, puppets, or prints. So when I saw that a special exhibit of Japanese woodblock prints would be at the Citadelle Museum in Canadian this spring, I made a mental note. Things worked out that my parents and I were able to go up there (90 minute or so drive) this past Friday, and it was worth the drive. Canadian is tucked away in the northeast corner of the Panhandle, and is one of those places that’s off the beaten track for most travel. The art museum is . . . a small gem, and you never know what will be there. Alphonse Mucha, Rembrandt sketches, art photography by Ansel Adams and others, Degas and Friends, hats from around the world . . . Plus the main museum with the permanent collection.

This time, the art was by seven modern masters of shin hanga, or “new style” woodblock prints. Some were derived from older works and reflected the style of masters like Hiroshige, while others tried to catch more impressionistic styles but using the woodblock medium. One, by Ito Shinsui entitled “Before the Thunderstorm” was especially impressive, catching grasses and plants bowing to the wind as a storm came in over faintly visible mountains or a cliff. Very Japanese, but also very Impressionist, and very good.

“Before A Thunderstorm” by Shinsui Ito. Creative Commons Fair Use. Original Here.

A more traditional, but not traditional work by Shinsui:

“Woman After a Bath” by Shinsui Ito. Used under Fair Use Creative Commons, Original found Here.

One difference between the “new style” artists and the more traditional woodblock artists was how they depicted women. Often they are more naturalistic, and show women of the working class, or women with tanned (by Japanese standards) faces and without makeup. There are more traditional depictions as well, because those sold, just like the kabuki actor prints sold. A few prints included embossed details, like one of two ducks in the water. A water lily had been embossed after printing, adding texture to the image. Others had a faint shimmer of mica added as a print layer.

One interesting contrast was a depiction of the Taj Mahal, drawn by a British artist, but done as a woodblock and sold in Japan by the major shin hanga and ukiyo-e printer, Watanabe.

The exhibition began with some background into the “new style” movement of the late 1800s-early 1900s, and a video about how Japanese woodblock prints were and are done. A few items of clothing and a sewing kit from Japan added context. The text with the art was excellent, good if you were familiar with the genre and time, but also good if the viewer is new to this type of visual art.

The exhibition will be in Canadian until April 26. If you are in the area Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM, I suggest you stop by. There are other things to do in Canadian, and good restaurants and an excellent coffee shop.

Returning to Saint Peter’s in Vienna

One of the most Baroque of Baroque churches in the old city of Vienna is the church of Saint Peter, tucked away on a little square, the Petersplatz. It has bullet marks on the outside in a pattern that reminds one of the need for muzzle control. The church is “new” by local standards, dating only to the 1700s. There have been churches on this site going back to the late 300s, but the Romanesque church disappeared and a miniature version of St. Peter’s in Rome was dedicated in 1733. The organ dates to 1751, and is quite something. So is the interior, and the basement/crypt/concert space.

The occasion I recall, not counting the concert in the basement, was a concert in the upper church. As usual I arrived early enough to pay, ease in, and find a seat on an aisle. I don’t like being boxed in. After considering the accoustics, I settled onto the hard wooden pew beside the altar of St. Michael and All Angels. Saint Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael held pride of place. An older man knelt at the rail, praying. He glanced up now and then to glare at the people disturbing his meditations.

The colors of the church are brown-pink and golden brown, with white statues and a dull red and white checkerboard floor. A smaller altar outside the angels’ chapel is dedicated to St. John Nepomuk, a saint not often found outside central Europe. He is popular in Bohemia and Moravia. In gilded glory he falls off of his bridge, eyes fixed on the outstretched cross. He was, according to tradition, martyred for not breaking the seal of the confessional. (Politics strikes yet again.)

The church is dark even in bright sunlight because of the buildings on three sides. Fingers of light appear in the church, moving with the sun and seasons. In a rainstorm it is dark indeed, and feels safe. Not as safe as St. Ruperts or the Michaelerkirche, but solid, bullet holes notwithstanding. At three, a bell chimed three times. More people washed in for the organ concert, drawing more glares from the devout gentleman with shoulder-length grey hair. He stalked out before the music began. Clouds had begun forming, and the sunlight faded in and out as the clouds outside moved past.

A series of familiar chords came from everywhere and no where, drawing a soft sigh from the listeners. After two chorals and a minor Bach fugue, the “Tocata” from Widor’s Organ Symphony #1 spilled and rolled through the space. The notes danced like stars on the Virgin’s crown. As the piece continued, the light shifted to touch the angels’ altar when the clouds permitted.

Used under Creative Commons Fair Use. Original Source: https://jetsettingfools.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/St.-Peters-Church-Altar-Vienna-Austria.jpg