Posts in Category: Europe

When drinking gin led to epilepsy and other teetotaling tales

Abstinence pledge card.  23 September 1842.  (GLC 2542.27.  The Gilder Lehrman Collection, on deposit at the Pierpont Morgan Library.)

Abstinence pledge card. 23 September 1842. (The Gilder Lehrman Collection, on deposit at the Pierpont Morgan Library.)

January 17, 1920: the day Americans were legally prohibited from consuming alcohol for the next 13 years—the day the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect. But teetotalism had been popular in America for nearly a century before the government got involved.

Alcohol had long been the target of American reformers who aimed to restore order to society through publishing diatribes on the harmful effects of excessive drinking, such as this illuminating pamphlet by University of Pennsylvania professor, Dr. Benjamin Rush, An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind (in its 8th edition by 1823).

A note to those considering imbibing tonight: Dr. Rush warns that while small amounts of alcohol “have a friendly influence upon health and life,” overindulgence in anything as innocent as punch leads to idleness, which leads to sickness and eventually to debt. Cordials lead to swindling, while the stronger stuff like gin and brandy will ultimately lead to murder and…the gallows. He suggests sticking to water which brings “health and wealth”—a radical concept at a time when the quality of most water was questionable.

An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind

An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind, by Dr. Benjamin Rush (1823)

American Teetotalism actually has its origins in Ireland with the Catholic Temperance movement when priest Mathew Theobald established the Cork Total Abstinence Society in 1838. His followers each signed a pledge of total alcohol abstinence and met on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sundays after Mass. In just the first five months, Theobald had conscribed 130,000 members. He began taking his cause on the road and eventually came to the U.S. in 1849 where he enlisted another 500,000. Catherine Cauty was the  4,281,797th to sign the pledge, promising to “abstain from all intoxicating drinks, except used medicinally and by order of a medical man, and to discountenance the cause and practice of intemperance.” The above card illustrates the consequences of alcohol consumption: wife-beating, and the benefits of temperance: a happy family gathering in front of a hearth.

Where’s the boef?

norman conquest

I guess lamb wasn’t popular in medieval England otherwise we’d be eating rack of agneau. Let me explain. Ever wonder why we eat beef but raise cows? Why once sheep hit the stock pot, they become mutton? Well, like with most overcomplicated things, we have the French to thank.  The Norman conquest of England brought French habits and words to the English language, specifically, as one would expect, many food words. While the invading Normans enjoyed the luxuries and foods of their newly conquered land, the local Saxons were left on the farm. Thus, the French brought to court their food language: mouton (sheep), boef (cow), veau (calf), poulet (fowl), porc (pig), which eventually becomes mutton, beef, veal, poultry and pork. As with most things, the Supersizers do a much better job explaining this in costume, if you can get past Giles Coren’s deafening chewing noises.

Vegetarians for voting rights

life1-500x777It’s World Vegetarian Day! For all our meat-shunning friends it’s a day to celebrate the earth’s bounty while sneering at the barbarians who still partake of flesh (me!). Also, it’s a day to remember a piece of forgotten women’s history. Feminist theory has long highlighted the common subjugation of women and animals in a patriarcal world where meat-eating plays an integral role in male dominance. In mid-19th century America, the early vegetarian movement was closely linked with several reform movements including animal welfare, health reform, abolition and women’s suffrage. The American Vegetarian Society was founded in 1850 under the leadership of several prominent American health reformers of the day, including noted vegetarian Reverend Sylvester Graham (of Graham cracker fame). It was the first society of it’s kind in the U.S and attracted supporters the like of Susan B. Anthony, who was known to throw vegetarian dinners but also still enjoyed the odd turkey and cow.

In the U.K. where vegetarian diets were being adopted up by the upper classes, London was teeming with vegetarian eateries. By the 1880′s, 30 new vegetarian restaurants had opened in London. These restaurants, as well as tea rooms, became popular meeting spots for suffragettes as there were few places where women could gather alone together outside the home. Away from the steaming kitchen and roast beef dinners, vegetarian restaurants also set an example of the kind of simple and fast cooking that could liberate women from the stove. Eventually women created their own spaces. London’s Minerva Club was founded by the Women’s Freedom League in 1920 attracting women from all branches of the women’s suffrage movement. Knowing their clientele, the club’s restaurant advertised that its vegetarian dishes were cooked separately and entirely free of animal fat. Eight years later the Representation of the People Act granted all women over the age of 21 the right to vote.

 

 

Welcome to the Republic of Užupis

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  • A mermaid takes a seat by the river on the Uzupis border.
    A mermaid takes a seat by the river on the Uzupis border.
  • The constitution has been translated into 18 languages and is exhibited on the street in the heart of Uzupis, that is, just across the river.
    The constitution has been translated into 18 languages and is exhibited on the street in the heart of Uzupis, that is, just across the river.
  • Like Uzupis, its constitution has some quirky elements. Clauses include:  "Everyone is responsible for their freedom"; "Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday"; "Everyone has the right to be happy"; "Everyone has the right to be unhappy";
"Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation." (That's me behind the clauses)
    Like Uzupis, its constitution has some quirky elements. Clauses include: "Everyone is responsible for their freedom"; "Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday"; "Everyone has the right to be happy"; "Everyone has the right to be unhappy"; "Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation." (That's me behind the clauses)
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Having micronations on the brain reminds me of when, a few years ago on a rainy spring day in Vilnius, Lithuania, I unknowingly wandered into another country. On one side of a narrow foot bridge bedazzled with love locks, a standard road sign temps visitors to cross the Vilnia River and enter the Republic of Užupis. Appropriately, Užupis means “on the other side of the river.” This micronation is also a neighborhood in Vilnius’ old town with lots of shops and galleries, which declared itself independent on April Fools’ Day, 1997. At 0.2 square miles with an army of 11, its own currency, anthem and constitution, the Republic’s main agenda is to promote the arts, which they did by erecting a monument to Frank Zappa as one of its first initiatives. This utopian project also has a president: Romas Lileikis, a local artist. After the war, the neighborhood was largely abandoned and by the time Užupis was formed it had become derelict. Today, it is a bohemian nook that is increasingly home to wealthy professionals, including Vilnius’ own mayor. 

 

The historic healing power of the beach

Image via Wiki Commons

Image via Wiki Commons

What if your doctor actually prescribed you a trip to the beach? These days we go to the beach to relax and rejuvenate. But we used to believe that a trip to the beach would actually cure us. Eighteenth century British beachgoers dunked themselves in the chilly waters of the North Sea to relieve their moral and physical ailments. For decades, taking in sea air and drinking seawater was prescribed with medical certainty. Through the tuberculosis epidemic of the nineteenth century, the seaside was a place of refuge and rehabilitation for the wealthy. Eventually, as the middle class flocked to the beach in the twentieth century, we turned our gazes from the sea to the sun–the new source of therapeutic wonder that rejuvenated and revitalized us with the tans to prove it. Here’s the full story on The Atlantic.

 

 

My mother the mermaid

"A Mermaid" by John William Waterhouse, 1901

“A Mermaid” by John William Waterhouse, 1901

“Accounts of mer-lineage among financially and politically powerful families are still an active belief in contemporary Ireland and Greece.”

The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales

My seven-year-old self’s heart flutters. As a largely water-dwelling child, there was nothing I wanted more than to be a mermaid. Disney did a fine job in 1989, but even at seven I knew it was a saccharine mess. I grew up on Hans Christian Anderson’s mermaid. I knew what really happened. And, apparently so do some Irish and Greek families.

Medieval mermaids were vain, villainous creatures. They craved an immortal soul which they would acquire by marrying a human. Other mythical sea creatures captured the hearts of men too. The Mavromichalis family of Greece trace their heritage to when Kondouriotis Mavromichalis found a nereid, sea nymph, sitting by the shore, captured her and took her for his wife. Claims of their decedents exist as late as 1900. Other families also boasted nereid-human family members around that time. Their relations were known for their great beauty and for their poor relationship skills–a family legacy. Nereids would inevitably leave their human families for the sea.

We share this earth with the miles of dark water churning all around us. It’s easy to imagine the worst. But it’s also easy to imagine the sublime and the fantastical. Here’s a nice round-up of mermaids and water nymphs throughout history and around the world from the Natural History Museum. 

Bringing home the woolly bacon from hungary

A blonde Mangalitsa pig

A blonde Mangalitsa pig

Not too long ago on an episode of Iron Chef America, the sweaty contestants were dexterously hacking away at a large animal encased in an impressive layer of fat usually only seen in the parts of Europe where words like “monounsaturated” and “natural supplement” haven’t yet arrived. “This is Iron Chef America Battle of the Mangalitsa!” the announcer proclaimed. At which point I leaped out of my chair, yelling: “It’s Mangalitsa!!” as if I had just seen my best friend on TV. I was first introduced to the Mangalitsa when I was living in Hungary a few years ago. They are a hulking, fatty, woolly hog that taste as unique as they look. So, when the strange beast appeared on my TV, well, I got really excited. Apparently I was not the only one. As I found out, Mangalitsas are finding their way into the hearts of chefs, farmers and foodies right here in New York. Here’s my full story on NPR’s The Salt.

A section of the Berlin Wall might be your backyard

This afternoon I went through an internet wormhole that began at a Slate tirade against flip flops and ended at an article about a chunk of the Berlin Wall that resides in NYC, naturally. I’ve walked by Paley Park, a small midtown POPS (Privately Owned Public Space), many times–enchanted by the urban waterfall but never noticing the mural on the other side. Turns out this slab of concrete is a genuine piece of the Berlin Wall (the nice people at Yelp are not as impressed and give this piece of history three out of five stars).

A piece of the Berlin Wall at Paley Park, New York

A piece of the Berlin Wall at Paley Park, New York

Of course, the excellent Untapped Cities already knew all about this. They report that this section of the Wall was added to the park in 1990 from its original location on Waldemarstrasse and decorated by German artists Thierry Noir and Kiddy Citny in 1985. Turns out there are three other pieces of the Wall in New York City: one at the entrance of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, one between Gateway Plaza, the North Cove Marina, and the World Financial Center and another in the gardens at the United Nations Headquarters featuring a mural titled “Trophy of Human Rights.”

Not much of the Wall remains in Berlin itself. Of the nearly 100 miles that once surrounded West Berlin, only 240 yards still stand. So, where did other parts of the Berlin Wall end up? Some small pieces found their way into people’s pockets–hawked to tourists or kept as souvenirs by the very people who helped tear it down. But pieces have found their way all over the world.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall in 2009, the BBC crowdsourced photos from around the world where pieces of the Wall now reside. Fragments are in some far flung places–some displayed with more symbolic purpose than others, form The Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando to a Cape Town street.

A section of the wall displayed at the Winston Churchill Memorial Library at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.

 

Cigarettiquette

In 1938 this ad for Will’s Gold Flake cigarettes appeared in The Times of London reminding readers that cigarettes are just like babies and that a charming girl will never sacrifice a man’s cigarette.

Cigarettiquette

“When a charming girl asks you for a cigarette and you’ve only one left – your last precious Gold Flake – what should you do about it? Try the Solomon act. Offer to cut it in half. She’ll never let you. She’ll more likely produce some of her own and solve the problem that way. Women have learned to appreciate a man’s cigarette, you see. Men have always smoked Will’s Gold Flake for their distinctive flavour – the flavour of fine Virginian tobaccos. So do women, now.”

Her Majesty’s Rat-Catcher and Destroyer of London’s Vermin

thomaswoodward

Jack Black says: “I’ve been bitten nearly everywhere, even where I can’t name to you, sir.”

Each great civilization is plagued by its own particular infestation—the point at which the balance between man and vermin shifts uncomfortably in the direction of the critters. Biblical Egypt had its plague of locusts, modern New York City is terrorized by bedbugs, and Victorian London had a serious rat problem. Full story on Lapham’s Quarterly.