Fat Thursday

Paczki

Paczki

Fat Thursday is a traditional Catholic Christian feast marking the last Thursday before Lent and is associated with the celebration of Carnival. Because Lent is a time of fasting, the next opportunity to feast would not be until Easter.

Fat Thursday is celebrated in Central and Eastern Europe.  It is similar to, but should not be confused with the French festival of Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”), Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday as we know it in Ireland.  There is clearly an East/West divide between the whole Thursday and Tuesday thing.

Traditionally both focus on the eating of treat foods that are soon to be banned for Lent.

Today I celebrated my first ever Fat Thursday by gorging on Polish pączki, fist-sized donuts filled with rose jam and slathered with a sticky marmalade flavoured icing.  We have a very international office where I work at present, in HostelWorld.  As a result we get to eat ALL the party foods.  It’s great!

 

Ode to a Donut; by Donal Clancy with help from John Keats

 

My stomach rumbles, and a drowsy numbness pains

My sense, as though of decaf I had drunk,

Or emptied some caffeine free beverage into my veins

Three O’clock, and feeling punch drunk:

‘Tis not for naught called the mogadon slot,

But being too happy in thine happiness,—

That thou, lardy Dryad of the teas

In some melodious plot

Of powdered sugar, and sprinkles numberless,

Singest of simmer in full-fat grease.

 

O, for a draught of chocolate! that hath been

Warmed a moment in the microwave,

Tasting of marshmallow and the cocoa brown,

Dance, and Aztec song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South,

Full of the true, the blushful cacao,

With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

And chocolate-stained mouth;

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the tea-station dim:

 

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the PC’s hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret

Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,

Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;

Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

And leaden-eyed despairs,

Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

 

Thou wast not born for keeping, immortal pastry!

No!;  hungry generations chomp thee down;

The noise I hear, this chew and swallow was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,

She stood in tears amid the alien cronut;

The same that oft-times hath

Charm’d magic croissants, opening on the scone

On Devon teas, with clotted cream forlorn.

 

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell

To toll me back from thee to my hungry self!

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well

As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive savour fades

Past the gums, over the tongue,

Down the throat; and now ’tis buried deep

In the straining belly:

Was it a Berliner, stuffed with jam and cream?

Fled is that donut:—Do I wake or sleep?

À la recherche du temps perdu*

Madeleine

Involuntary memory is the serendipitous recollection of past events through an unexpected stimulus.  In Proust’s novel* it is famously the eating of a Madeline dipped in tea which triggers the protagonist’s memory.

Current thinking on the structure of the brain is that it operates somewhat like a watershed.  Instead of rain falling on hills, carving a stream which becomes a river and flows to a meeting with the sea, we have a set of stimuli which react in the brain, following established links and connections to come to a certain conclusion.

When we have a particularly happy event, our levels of neurotransmitters are high.  Patterns are laid down by Dopamine, Seratonin and Norepinephrine in our brain.  These patterns are associated with a pleasurable experience (or sometimes with a traumatic one).

The patterns act like the watershed of a river.  A little rain falls on one side of a hill in County Cavan, and it will flow to the sea via the Shannon River.  With a small gust of wind that rain falls on the other side of the hill.  The water will enter Lough Erne and reach the sea at Sligo bay.  Once the watershed is established that rain can go nowhere else but down the established flow.

In the same way the smell of cookies in the oven may trigger memories of your grandmother.  A particular floor polish smell may bring back the memory of visiting your father at work.  A certain taste combination may open up a memory of a very special night of moonlight and romance.  One neurotransmitter sets off another and another in sequence until the memory is fully formed.

Involuntary memory is as good as it gets!

Sonnet XXX; by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

Remembrance

Image

À la recherche du temps perdu is a novel by Marcel Proust, often translated as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, or more literally ‘Searching for lost time’.  It is famous for the exploration of the theme of involuntary memory.  When the author dips a Madeleine in tea and eats it, he is transported psychologically to the time of his childhood, when he shared the same food with his aunt.  In the process his mind unlocks memories that were long forgotten.

The memory of the taste of Madeleine dipped in tea is a trigger to the memories stored when he was familiar with the taste.
Proust was contemporaneous with Freud, but there is no evidence that one read the other.  Each, in his own way, was exploring the power of the unconscious and pre-conscious mind.  Each was examining triggers to unlock suppressed or hidden memories.

My own work in Market Research has made frequent forays into the realms of pre-conscious thought.  I have worked with a clinical psychologist who is a proponent of the work of Jacques Lacan.  Lacan is a revisionist Freudian who explored language as a seat of meaning.  In the modern, consumerist, paradigm language as a seat of meaning has extended to brands, logos and products.  Product consumption constellations are a blueprint for understanding self-identity.

The point of this post, if any of my blog posts have a point, is to comment on self-identity and remembrance in the context of Remembrance Day, which is tomorrow.  The WW1 armistice  on the 11th hour, 11th day, 11th month gives us the anniversary upon which we remember those who fell in battle.

For us here in Ireland the wearing of the poppy is a foreign and rejected symbol.  It celebrated those who fell defending Great Britain.  After the Easter Rising in 1916 those Irish fighting in France found themselves on the wrong side.  They wore the Khaki of the British Imperialist oppressor rather than the Green of the Irish Volunteers.  Sadly, they were ‘unremembered’ by Ireland for 100 years.  Now, at last, we begin to recognise their right to remembrance.

An important step on this journey was the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland.  She laid a poppy wreath in the war memorial garden in Islandbridge.  For many Irish people it was the first time that they were aware that we even had a monument dedicated to the Irish soldiers who fell in WW1.

However, I do not think the poppy will ever gain widespread acceptance in Ireland.  Already in England there is increasing rejection of the symbol.  For many it is increasingly seen as a celebration of military violence rather than a memoir of heroic sacrifice.

Conscientious objectors who choose not to wear the symbol are vilified by the bully boy tactics of proponents of the poppy.  This further reinforces the aggressive nature of the symbol.  Tune into British TV at this time of year and you quickly draw the conclusion that someone in the wings is pinning the things on everyone, regardless of their sympathies.

Two of my father’s grand-uncles wore Khaki in Gallipoli.  My grandfather wore the Green in the War of Independence.  If I choose to remember them it will be with the far older symbol of a sprig of Rosemary.  Like Proust’s tea-dipped Madeleine, the Greeks believed that the Rosemary herb improved memory.  So it became a symbol of remembrance.  Ophelia calls it such in Hamlet.  Poppies as symbols of remembrance are far more recent, and are accredited to the John McCrae poem.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.