Happy Birthday Ibn Jubayr

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Born Sept 1st 1145 in Muslim Valencia Ibn Jubayr is remarkable for the journal he left of his Hajj.  Travelling through the islamic world at the time of the 3rd Crusade he encountered a world where lands were changing between Muslim and Christian rule and he wrote of the cordial relations that existed between the common folk while their armies slaughtered each other on the battlefields.

Because he kept an excellent journal Jubayr became a vital source for other writers.  When the ageing Ibn Batuta dictated his travels to his scribe the resourceful Ibn Juzayy used Jubayr as a source to fill in colour and detail in Batuta’s account.

Jubayr was secretary to the ruler of Granada.  A pious muslim he was forced by his lord to drink seven cups of wine.  Afterwards overcome by remorse the ruler filled the seven cups with gold dinars and presented them to Ibn Jubayr.  The secretary thus funded was able to afford the passage to Mecca to cleanse the sin of consuming the wine.

I love how Islamic poetry is turgid with verses extolling the ferment of the grape.  So common are these poems they have a particular name for them: khamriyyat.  I like this stanza from Abu Nuwas the 8th Century Persian poet.

“Don’t cry for Layla, don’t rave about Hind!

But drink among roses a rose-red wine,

a draught that descends in the drinker’s throat,

bestowing its redness on eyes and cheeks.

The wine is a ruby, the glass is a pearl,

served by the hand of a slim-fingered girl,

who serves you the wine from her hand, and wine

from her mouth — doubly drunk, for sure, will you be!”

 

Valentine Wine

Romance

As Valentines day approaches here is some inspiration for your own scribblings to your heart’s desire:

To Celia; by Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes
And I will pledge with mine.
Or leave a kiss but in the cup
And I’ll not look for wine.

The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much hon’ring thee As giving it a hope that there
It could not withered be;

But thou thereon did’st only breathe,
And sent’st it back to me,
Since when it grows and smells, I swear
Not of itself, but thee.

Canary Wine

Malmsey

In Elizabethan England the prize wine on the market was Malmsey, a fortified wine from the Canary Islands in Spain. It is  a wine celebrated in the writings of Shakespeare.  Indeed the popularity of the sweet white fortified wine predates Elizabeth’s reign.  The Duke of Clarence, brother to Edward IV, was killed by being drowned in a barrel of Malmsey in 1478 during the wars of the Roses.

Made from the Malvasia grape, thought to have originated in Greece, the vines thrived on the volcanic soils of the Canary Islands.  In those days only a fortified wine could survive the long sea voyage from Spain to Britain.  Indeed prolonged maturation in the cask on board ships at sea actually improved the quality of these wines.

In Shakespeare there are multiple references to “Sack” and “Sweet Sack”.  These are the sweet fortified whites that were popular.  Some from Jerez, but the best from the Canaries.  The name “sack” causes some confusion as the French term “sec” means dry, but these wines are clearly sweet.  It appears to be a derivation from “sacas” a Spanish word used in past times to refer to exports.

The Poet Laureate of England in 1630, Ben Johnson, petitioned for the salary of the post to be raised.  His wish was granted and a tierce of Canary was added for good measure.  A tierce was a large barrel, equivalent to 42 Imperial Gallons or just about half a standard modern bottle of wine per day for the year.  Just the right amount to lubricate the pen of a good poet.

The supply of this vintage ran into difficulty in 1666 when the Canary Islanders rebelled against the London based Canary Island Company and smashed all their wine casks, so that the streets flowed with wine.  The British company responded by banning imports from the Canaries and moving production to Madeira.

The tierce of Canary became a tierce of Madeira until the appointment of Henry James Pye to the post in the 1790’s.  Pye was appointed for political and not poetic reasons.  His work was scorned in his own lifetime and ever since.  The barrel of wine was converted into a stipend of cash, probably because he was suffering under a weight of debt.  Pye received €27 a year to churn out bad doggerel.

But how bad can his poetry be?  Oh let me promise you it is execrable.  What is worse is that it is mostly interminably long.  It reminds me of the Woody Allen joke about the 2 Jewish women in a holiday resort in the Catskills.

Woman 1:  The food this year, it’s not so good.

Woman 2: And the portions, so small.

If you are going to serve bad fare, at least make the portions mercifully small.  So here is a small portion of the work of Henry James Pye, the worst English Poet Laureate, born this day in 1745.  Read it and weep.

The Snow-drop; by Henry James Pye

Hail earliest of the opening flowers!
Fair Harbinger of vernal hours!
Who dar’st unveil each silken fold
ere Sol dispels the wintry cold,
and with thy silver leaves display’d
spread lustre through the dreary glade.
What though no frgarance like the rose
tincturing the Zephyr as it blows,
thy humble flowers from earth exhale
to scent the pinions of the gale;
What though no hues of gaudy dye
strike with their dazzling charms the eye,
nor does thy sober foliage shew
each blended tint of Iris’ bow;
Yet in thy meek unsullied grace
imagination’s eye shall trace
the glowing blossoms that appear
proudly to paint the vernal year,
and smiling Maia’s blushing dyes,
and jocund Summer’s cloudless skies,
and Autumn’s labors which succeed
to bid the purple vintage bleed,
our hopes anticipating see
led on in radiant train by thee.

Bucket List #2

Brewing Bucket

So again, I have one of these.  My bucket list is a list of stories about buckets and their place in my life (in case you haven’t guessed yet).

So roll back to the year 1977.  I feel sure that was the year, but I am open to correction.  My oldest brother Jerry got married.  I wore a kind of safari style jacket that my mother made, and a pair of brown flares.  Flares were not just “in fashion” in 1977, they were all you could buy.  I hated flares, but there seemed to be no alternative.

The jacket was god-awful too.  I have my own self to blame for that I guess.  My mother asked what I would like to wear for the wedding.  I was very into things african, safaris, Daktari, Born Free and all that guff.  I had ambitions to become a game park ranger when I grew up.  So I asked for a Safari jacket.  I knew the moment that she bought the cloth for it that she was way off the mark.  But I didn’t have the heart to upset my mother by pointing out that she hadn’t a clue.  She wanted me to look neat and well dressed.  I wanted to look beat, worn, creased, just off a dusty landrover.

Looking back I see now that I was in the early stages of my love affair with punk.  I was rejecting the glamour and sparkle of the disco era.  I wanted to disrupt, to break out, to smash convention.  I was just that little bit too young.  This was the year punk erupted on the scene in Ireland.  The Boomtown Rats released “Looking After Number 1” and the music world changed completely.

So what has all this to do with large white plastic buckets?  Anyone who grew up in a large family has experienced the joy of what happens when someone gets married.  There were nine of us sharing four bedrooms.  The departure of Jerry opened up a bed, and for the first time in my life I did not have to share one with my younger brother.  My own bed.  And only two of us in the room.  I felt like Hitler expanding into Poland.

And since I was taking over Jerry’s bed I was not going to stop there.  Jerry had a beer and wine making operation up and running.  When he moved out I moved in.  I had a ready made inventory of demi-jons, a pressure barrel, wine and beer bottles, crown corks, barley, hops, malt, hydrometer, thermometer and …….you guessed it…..fermentation vessels.  I had a large jerry can for lager, and a big coloured plastic bin for fermentation.

I learned more about chemistry from brewing and wine making than I learned in school.  I learned about enzyme reactions, the importance of temperature control, the importance of controlling the environment, sterilization.  I was the 1970’s version of Walter White.  I kept my family in country wines and beers for many years.  I deviated into mead and it’s derivatives, and developed a taste for Metheglin.  I made cordials and in turn used them to create cocktails.  It was a marvelous education.

Over the years what with kids and career, my brewing activities declined.  Dust gathered on the kit.  Then, when we converted our garage in Clontarf into a den for the kids the brewing gear was just in the way.  I sold it off.

Last Christmas my Daughter pulled me for her Kris Kindle.  To my surprise she had picked up on my love of home brew from hints over the years.  She bought me a kit online.  So now once again I am brewing.  It was a fabulous present, because it unlocked all those memories of times past.  Good times, if somewhat crowded.

I almost pity my kids that they will never realize the joy of getting your very own bed.  Almost…..

 

 

 

 

Biscuits and Milk

Turkish Tanks

My brain is taking a duvet day.  It is a time for me to sit down and eat some biscuits and drink some milk.  It’s just that nobody is giving me biscuits and milk.  When I say I need biscuits and milk they look at me funny.  They don’t know what I am talking about.

Walt Whitman used biscuits and milk the way Jesus used bread and wine.  Simple grounding staples of our society.  Foods that bring the ego and the id closer together and nourish me, who I am, myself.

In Freudian psychology the dream state is envisaged as a time when the id floats free and projects away from the physical world.  In this projected state it can interact, through dreams, with the pre-conscious layer of the mind, the buffer zone between the sealed unconscious and the waking conscious state.

Think of ISIS as the unconscious state, we really have no idea what is going on there in ISIS.  What do those guys want?  It is a dark and scary place.

So, the Turkish Border, with the Patton tanks lined up on the hill, that is the Conscious state,  hard, grounded, real, factual.

The Kurds in Kobani are like the Id, floating freely in the pre-conscious, wishing they could wake up to the sound of Turkish Tanks firing shells at ISIS.  In Kobani the Kurds want security, safety, surety (good alliteration kiddo).  They want biscuits and milk.  Breakfast food.  Simple, uncomplicated, bland, plain breakfast food.  They want to get their heads together.

Now do you understand?  I don’t actually want you to put a plate of biscuits and a glass of milk in front of me!  I am not hungry for food.  I just need to get it together in my mind.  So when someone asks for Biscuits and Milk, give them a bit of space.

Song of Myself; by Walt Whitman
Stanza 46
I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured and never will be measured.

I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road.

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds dear son, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth,
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.

If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me,
For after we start we never lie by again.

This day before dawn I ascended a hill and look’d at the crowded heaven,
And I said to my spirit When we become the enfolders of those orbs, and the pleasure and knowledge of every thing in them, shall we be fill’d and satisfied then?
And my spirit said No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond.

You are also asking me questions and I hear you,
I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.

Sit a while dear son,
Here are biscuits to eat and here is milk to drink,
But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet clothes, I kiss you with a good-by kiss and open the gate for your egress hence.

Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.

From the Big Six

Here I sit again on the six o’clock train. It is five past six and I am praying that they shut the damn doors and get going. I call this the Train of the Lame, the Crippled and the Insane. I, sadly, fall into the latter category, but at least it is not out of choice.
Early this morning the Lame and the Crippled and the voluntarily Insane assembled in train stations in Cork and Limerick, Tralee and Mallow, in Limerick and Tipperary and elected to travel up to Dublin for the day. All of them agreed “let’s come home on the six o’clock train”.
Of course they are not commuters. They do not realise that I am condemned to this train if I am to get home at anything like a reasonable hour. They could take the 5pm train, or the 5.05, or there is one at 5.25. I cannot make any of those beautiful, half empty, spacious, comfortable trains, but they could. Or they could elect to get a bite of food in Dublin, relax for an hour and take the 7pm train. But do they? NO! They must all cram into the Big Six.
Why? Well if you put absolutely no thought into your decision, 6pm seems somehow right. If you have to visit a hospital in Dublin (Crippled) for elective treatment the appointments will get you out in time…..for the 6 o’clock train.
If you want to go shopping for the day you know you will be footsore (Lame) and tired out by 5pm. Then you will get on the Luas, or onto a bus, or into a taxi and get yourself down to the station in good time to relax, grab a coffee, and make….the 6 o’clock train.
If you are up in the city for the day on business a morning train that gets you to Dublin for a morning appointment requires a very unreasonable hour to get out of bed. So they arise at a reasonable hour, and arrange an afternoon meeting, and get away in time for……the 6 o’clock train.
Brides to be with their wedding dresses, teenagers with bags from Hollister, senior citizens clutching their free travel pass, revellers in party mood, small children on school tours, hospital patients on Zimmer frames, surfer dude replete with board, middle aged couples with holiday tans or legal papers and briefcase wielding fools like me, all crammed into the Big Six.
But I have a seat. I have a signal. I have a book. I have an apple. I was not late. I will be home. The train is clean, and relatively on time. I have a job, a wife, a home, three healthy happy children, a purpose for being on the Big Six.
If you are happy now you know it will not last. If you are sad then it too will pass. But if you are content and appreciate this sentiment, I wish you nothing more in life than further contentment.

The Weaker the Wine
“The weakest wine is better than warm water.
Rags are better than no clothes at all.
An ugly wife and a quarrelsome concubine
Are better than an empty house.”
The weaker the wine,
The easier it is to drink two cups.
The thinner the robe,
The easier it is to wear it double.
Ugliness and beauty are opposites,
But when you’re drunk, one is as good as the other.
Ugly wives and quarrelsome concubines,
The older they grow, the more they’re alike.
Live unknown if you would realize your end.
Follow the advice of your common sense.
Avoid the Imperial Audience
Chamber, the Eastern Flowery Hall.
The dust of the times and the wind of the Northern Pass.
One hundred years is a long time,
But at last it comes to an end.
Meanwhile it is no greater accomplishment
To be a rich corpse or a poor one.
Jewels of jade and pearl are put in the mouths
Of the illustrious dead
To conserve their bodies.
They do them no good, but after a thousand years,
They feed the robbers of their tombs.
As for literature, it is its own reward.
Fortunately fools pay little attention to it.
A chance for graft
Makes them blush with joy.
Good men are their own worst enemies.
Wine is the best reward of merit.
In all the world, good and evil,
Joy and sorrow, are in fact
Only aspects of the Void.

SU TUNG P’O (1036-1101) Translated by Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)