2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Granada

Granada

Say 1066 and everyone thinks of Normans, William the Conqueror, Harold Godwinson with an arrow in his eye, Harald Hardrada, the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the Battle of Hastings. Then there was the Granada Massacre, and only the Jews bother to remember.

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In 1066 Al Andalus was a muslim kingdom ruled by Berber Kings in a period of flux between the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate and the rise of the Almoravids. In this power vacuum numerous Berber warlords seized power of fractured city states.

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The culture of tolerance and pluralism that marked the Caliphate was replaced by the motivations of a dog-eat-dog world. The enlightened Jews who had risen to high administrative positions under the Caliphate suddenly found that the sin of not being Muslim was punishable by death. A mob descended on the Royal Palace of Granada on 30th Dec 1066 and massacred the Jews.

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The famous Alhambra was originally a simple fort constructed in the 9th century. In the 11th century the Moorish rulers converted it into a fortified palace and laid the foundations for the current complex. The final royal ornamentation was completed much later, in the 14th century, just before it was lost to the Christian forces of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

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I visited Granada in 1978 as a teenager. I remember the heat of the night, the smell of jasmine, and hair oil, the bustle of all the people out strolling after dark.  I remember the Latin quarter on the hill with small artisan workshops making beautiful Moorish geometric marquetry plates.  I also remember the dark gypsy-like Andalusian boys chasing us down the street, trying to lure us into a “Flamenco Show” with the promise of “free champagne”.

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My mother asked one of them why we should pay to see dancing when we could dance ourselves.  He asked us to prove that we could dance.  So we danced an impromptu “Walls of Limerick” on the street.  He jumped onto his moped and raced off.  Ten minutes later he returned with a crowd of about 20 of his friends and asked us to dance again.  When we obliged we got a great cheer.  The young man then collected his winnings on the bets he had made on his boast.

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I remember at the Alhambra the parking attendants were injured veterans of the Civil War. Back in those days there were fewer tourists and we didn’t have to queue for hours to get in.

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The ornamentation is stunning but what really marks out the palace is the way the Moors integrated water into the design. Everywhere there are pools, fountains, qanats, runnels and cisterns. In the desert water is life. The Moors demonstrated their mastery through their ability to command water.

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This video may give a sense of the serenity of the space they created. Manuel da Falla’s “Night in the Gardens of Spain” is a fantastic and somewhat underplayed set of Nocturnes for Piano and Orchestra. The first movement takes the Gardens of the Generalife of the Alhambra as its inspiration. The linked video uses footage from the gardens to build the atmosphere.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qxqzo0fLKKQ

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While we are in Andalusia I attach an exerpt from the Soliloquy of Molly Bloom at the end of Ulysses by James Joyce. Joyce wrote this in unpunctuated prose. I have parsed it out in the way I would read it, with a lot of very gaspy yesses.

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Molly Bloom Soliloquy (Exerpt), from Ulysses; by James Joyce

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and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain
yes
when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used

or shall I wear a red
yes
and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought
well
as well him as another
and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again
yes
and then he asked me would I
yes
to say
yes
my mountain flower
and first I put my arms around him
yes
and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume
yes
and his heart was going like mad and
yes
I said
yes
I will
Yes.

Cold Turkey

How to address the annual dilemma, using the cold, leftover turkey.

This year I knocked up a recipe that was a big hit.  I am calling it….(fanfare)…Rondo a la Turkey

Ingredients.

1 Onion

Leftover turkey – cubed.  I used breast meat, because I freeze the legs and cook them after Christmas.

Leftover ham – cubed (about a quarter as much as the turkey)

Leftover cream

Leftover fresh parsley.

Method:

Sweat off the sliced onion in a pot with some good olive oil.  Add in the turkey and ham and put on the pot lid to keep in the steam as you heat up the meat for about 10 mins on a gentle heat.  Add in the cream and bring slowly up to a temperature just below boiling (don’t boil the cream).  Toss in some finely chopped fresh parsley.  Season to taste.

Serve on plain steamed white rice.

In case you feel you have heard the name before, it does sound a LITTLE familiar:  Follow the link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geER3iQDO5k

Cold Turkey; by Joshua Mehigan

They’re over now forever, the long dances.
Our woods are quiet. The god is gone tonight.
Our girls, good girls, have shaken off their trances.
They’re over now forever, the long dances.
Only the moonlight, sober and real, advances
over our hills to touch my head with white.
They’re over now forever, the long dances.
Our woods are quiet. The god is gone tonight.

New food from old

Playing around with Christmas leftovers today.  I invented some kind of potato, stuffing and bacon fritter thingy.

I had a lot of mashed potato left over, and some roast ones.  I chopped the roast potatoes very small and mixed them with the mash.  Then I mixed in leftover bread stuffing.  A bit of self-raising flour to help bind it, and an egg.  Finally some finely chopped Christmas ham.

Mix it together, roll it out in a sheet.  Cut it into bite size squares.  Heat a baking tray in the oven with oil and butter.  When it is hot pop the fritters on the tray and bake until golden brown.  Turn over and make sure they are golden on both sides.

I do this a lot with just mashed potato, or potato with cheese.  I am calling these Post-Christmas Potato Cakes.

First Woman MP

countessmarkievicz-stamp

The first woman to be elected as an MP to Westminster was Constance Markievicz.  At the time, Dec 28th 1918, she was in prison for sedition.  It was not her first spell in prison, as she was jailed after her participation in the Irish Rebellion of 1916.

She joined the Irish Citizen Army due to her dual motivations for womens’ suffrage and care of the poor.  She came from a proud tradition of care for the needy.  During the Famine Lissadell House was a refuge for the starving.  Said to have designed the citizen army uniform and written their anthem she is accredited with the following fashion advice for the would be female rebel.

Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.

In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz; by William Butler Yeats

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer’s wreath;
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams –
Some vague Utopia – and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion, mix
pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

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Dear shadows, now you know it all,
All the folly of a fight
With a common wrong or right.
The innocent and the beautiful.
Have no enemy but time;
Arise and bid me strike a match
And strike another till time catch;
Should the conflagration climb,
Run till all the sages know.
We the great gazebo built,
They convicted us of guilt;
Bid me strike a match and blow.

Wren Hunting

wren

Happy St. Stephens Day. The Irish Countryside tradition is one of hunting. Fox hunting for some and Wren hunting for others. The Wren was the Celtic symbol of the old year, and was sacrificed in ancient Druidic tradition. Later this practice was Christianised by having the Wren responsibile for revealing the hiding place of the Martyr St Stephen.
In the best traditions the Wrenboys dress in motley outfits and go from door to door with a fake wren on a pole. They then sing songs, dance or play music to collect contributions which are used to fund a big party on St Stephens night.
It may be from this tradition that we get the practice of Christmas Carollers calling door to door collecting money for charities.
In Ireland the Wrenboys put pressure on the ‘donors’ with a rhyme or song such as this one below.

The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.
His body is little but his family is great
So rise up landlady and give us a trate.
And if your trate be of the best
Your soul in heaven can find its rest.
And if your trate be of the small
It won’t plaze the boys at all.
A glass of whiskey and a bottle of beer
Merry Christmas and a glad New Year.
So up with the kettle and down with the pan
And give us a penny to bury the wran.

Branded

Gary Larson:  The Far Side

Gary Larson: The Far Side

On this day in 1777 Captain James Cook “discovered” the largest Atoll by land area in the world. He named it Christmas Island. It is now called Kiritimati and if you know anything about South Seas Pidgin you will recognize that the modern name is simply a native rendering of “Christmas”.

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I place “discovered” in parentheses for good reason. Cook was by no means the first to chart the island. The earliest evidence we have is from the Spanish in 1537 and was named Acea. It was uninhabited when discovered by both the Spanish and by the British, but the British name stuck.

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There are many examples throughout history of someone discovering or inventing something, only to be sidelined by a rival who marketed the discovery better. Even recording the discovery is not enough. You need to make it relevant and memorable to your audience. Discoveries need to be branded as well as patented.

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Christmas Eve: My Mother Dressing; by Toi Derricotte

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My mother was not impressed with her beauty;
once a year she put it on like a costume,
plaited her black hair, slick as cornsilk, down past her hips,
in one rope-thick braid, turned it, carefully, hand over hand,
and fixed it at the nape of her neck, stiff and elegant as a crown,
with tortoise pins, like huge insects,
some belonging to her dead mother,
some to my living grandmother.
Sitting on the stool at the mirror,
she applied a peachy foundation that seemed to hold her down, to trap her,
as if we never would have noticed what flew among us unless it was weighted and bound in its mask.
Vaseline shined her eyebrows,
mascara blackened her lashes until they swept down like feathers;
her eyes deepened until they shone from far away.

Now I remember her hands, her poor hands, which, even then were old from scrubbing,
whiter on the inside than they should have been,
and hard, the first joints of her fingers, little fattened pads,
the nails filed to sharp points like old-fashioned ink pens,
painted a jolly color.
Her hands stood next to her face and wanted to be put away, prayed
for the scrub bucket and brush to make them useful.
And, as I write, I forget the years I watched her
pull hairs like a witch from her chin, magnify
every blotch—as if acid were thrown from the inside.

But once a year my mother
rose in her white silk slip,
not the slave of the house, the woman,
took the ironed dress from the hanger—
allowing me to stand on the bed, so that
my face looked directly into her face,
and hold the garment away from her
as she pulled it down.

Top of the World

WTC

On Dec 23rd 1970 the North Tower of the World Trade Center (No.1 WTC) topped out at the height that made it the tallest building in the world.  The record stood only until 1973 when it was surpassed by the Sears Tower in Chicago  As we know now the building itself was fated to fall in 2001.

Entropy is inevitable.  What we build will fall.  Should this deter us from building?

Man has built something stronger than steel, more durable than concrete and more revealing than glass.  The sum of our knowledge is man’s great tower.  We have the ability to encode knowledge, store it in a retrievable format, access it when we need it and communicate it to those who can use it.  This is what sets man apart from animals.  This is why modern man replaced Neanderthals.

We often represent the concept of “education” with a candle, a light, a beacon shining in the darkness of ignorance.  The candle, guttering in every gust of wind, fragile, easily lost, something to be nurtured and protected.

Yes, we should build.  Yes, the buildings will fall.  We must ensure that the knowledge endures.

Sonnet LXIV; by William Shakespeare

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Solstice Survived

newgrange-2004b

We survived another Winter Solstice, dodged another bullet. The sun has arrested its long descent into darkness and is waxing again even as we speak.

Here in Tipperary the morning was clear, the skies were clear and the Solstice Dawn was a thing to behold. Sadly for the thousands who gathered in Newgrange there was a misty start to the morning in County Meath and they were not treated to the full spectacle of the dawn shining down the passage of the burial mound.

Newgrange is a neolithic monument, built around 3,200 BC and predating both the Pyramids and Stonehenge. It is a testament to our early ancestors that they could, and did, track the heavens so faithfully. Newgrange is all the more impressive given that Ireland is such a young country. The first humans only arrived after 8,000 BC. We had no Neanderthals here, no Paleolithic people and only a smattering of Mesolithic settlements.

Farming was key to the success of the Neolithic peoples. They brought a “farm kit” with them; wheat, oats, barley, sheep, goats and cattle. Knowing when to plant was crucial to their existence. Hence the focus on megalithic clocks such as the one at Newgrange.

The Times Are Nightfall; by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress.
And I not help. Nor word now of success:
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.

Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…

I saw 3 ships

I saw 3 ships come sailing in?  Not quite.  On this day in 1606 three ships left England and supposedly “began the British Empire”.  They were the Susan Constant, the Discovery and the Godspeed and they founded the first successful English colony in Jamestown Virginia.

It is hard today to understand what these men (they were all men) faced, but let me try to put it in context.  The English had tried and failed to establish colonies in Ireland.  The plantation of King’s and Queen’s Counties of 1556, an Ulster Plantation in the 1570s and the Munster plantation of 1586 were all failures.  The “wild” local tribes rose up and drove out the settlers.  Not enough new settlers could be found to “undertake” the plantation contracts.

In 1606 the potential colonist had two immediate options.  The lands of O’Neill and O’Donnell in Ulster were open for plantation, and the Virginia Colony was open for business. Neither was very attractive.  Cross 60 miles of sea to Ireland and set up in a country that has driven out all previous attempts to colonise it, or sail thousands of miles across the Atlantic and set up in a land of savages.  Previous English colonies in the new world had fared no better than those in Ireland.  Colonists disappeared such as those at Roanoke.

To board one of these three ships and sail for Virginia must have been the equivalent of joining an expedition to Mars today, except we know a lot more about Mars than the English knew about Virginia.

I have no doubt that we will colonise some of the planets or moons of our solar system, and that mankind will gradually push out into the great unknown.  It is what we do!

A Christmas Childhood; by Patrick Kavanagh

One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.

The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw –
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me.

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again.

The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch,
Or any common sight, the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodion called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — the Three Wise Kings.

And old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodion.’ I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
there was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.

Virginia State Commemorative Quarter