Pancho Villa and others at the very first Fiesta de la tarro vacía
Rare photo recently discovered
A contemplative Villa (left) and a glum Zapata (2nd from right) face an uncertain future
In Mexico during the time of the Revolution, mayonnaise was a national obsession. More of the condiment was consumed there than any other one place on earth, with Hong Kong a distant second.
In fact, leaders on both sides of the conflict were crazy for the stuff. But it was Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata circa 1910, who spread the spread among the common people, as it were, so that its popularity soared.
In those days, England was the mayonnaise capital of the world, with Cross & Blackwell’s, and Hellmann’s as the most popular brands, and the largest shipment of all time, some tens of thousands of jars, set out from Southampton by steamship on April 10, 1912, bound for Vera Cruz, by way of Cherbourg, New York, Charleston, and Havana.
But as history showed, the vessel was none other than the ill-fated H.M.S. Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank on April 15th.
When news arrived in Mexico twenty days later, the war-torn people were devastated. Their anguish was so great that a truce was declared between the Federales and the rebel factions, for one day of mourning. And thus was held the very first Fiesta de la tarro vacía (Feast of the Empty Jar.)
(photo: Museos de México)
It has been observed ever since, on this very day, now known colloquially as Sinko de Mayo.
The cook who had fixed my hearty, satisfying breakfast was busying cooking away.
With a graceful turn, he strode forward in upright dignity and a large garnished platter of chicken and vegetables. And he, rather than the waitress, brought it to an abandoned section of the serpentine counter, where he set it before an empty chair, with a certain panache of pride and pleasure, twitching his salt and pepper pencil thin mustache before walking back past his station, while removing his chef’s hat and apron, and then out and around the counter, where he occupied the empty seat, and prepared to enjoy his 4 PM lunch.
One day, I will post a review and declare it finished and it will be finished, without the additional 48 hours of chisel tapping and complete rewriting of paragraphs only a lobotomized gibbon would have thought polished. And the next day I will drop dead.
The day after that, the international media will announce the record holder for the oldest human ever known will have expired at 187 years of age.
The Republic of Adygea is virtually unknown in the West
Located within Krasnodar Krai, at the extreme southwest tip of the Russian Federation, near the Black Sea
Called Cherkess by the Soviets, when it was set in the 1920s as an autonomous region for the Adyghe people, more than 60% of the republic’s current 107,000 residents are ethnic Russians. But the Adygejtsy government is headed by an elected official, sensibly called the Head, who by law must be fluent in the Adyghe language.
Notable people who have come from Adygea include professional athletes, a cosmonaut, Sci-Fi novelist Iar Elterrus, and the artist and illustrator Konstantin Vasilyev, who had a minor planet named after him.
The Adyghe are made up of twelve tribes, with two languages, considered dialects by modern linguists. They are among the indigenous people of the Caucasus mountains, but the majority of the modern Adyghe population live in Turkey, Jordan, and Syria, and are Sunni Muslim. Most of the rest reside within the Adygea Republic and are primarily Orthodox Christians, with a minority of Muslims and others not officially religious.
Also called the Circassians, the Adyghe suffered from persecution and “ethnic cleansing” throughout their history, when the greater Krasnodar territory was conquered at various times, first by local tribes, then the Kievian Rus, then Byzantine armies, and basically ever afterwards. And the Adyghe have adopted customs from other cultures, just as they have provided some of their own. Hence, they embrace the fashion and spirit of the Slavic Cassocks who were at times their enemy, while also inventing the Cossack’s fabled shashka sword. The word shashka coming from the Adyghe term for “long knife.”
A crossroads of empires, the Adyghe homeland is found within an area that includes the northeastern shore of the Black Sea, and the peninsula situated directly across from the Crimea.
But the Republic of Adygea itself is landlocked within a larger republic, with plains in its northern areas, and mountains in the south. It has no lakes but several large reservoirs. It is one of the poorest Russian republics, but has considerable natural resources, with some 40% of its 2,900 square miles covered large forests, along with undeveloped oil and natural gas reserves.
The Adyghe are also capable farmers, with a deep and fabled history of cultivating fruit and nuts. The oak from the region is prized by Georgian and Russian winemakers, and similar to oak used by French vineyards. And the Adyghe tradition of wine goes back to the deepest recesses of their ancient tribal history, and it is something that even Muslim Adyghe have never given up. Their prehistoric religion was centered on the fruit tree and archeologists have discovered the remnants of Adyghe gardens deep within the wild forests of the Caucuses and Asia Minor, still producing fruit, nuts, and grapes to this day.
This landlocked “island” at the southwest edge of the Russian Federation has a surprising connection to the Isle of Islay, of the Inner Hebrides near the southwest edge of Scotland. Oak trees from a forest in Adygea were made into barrels and seasoned there before being shipped to the Ardbeg distillery, on Islay, where they were used to age single malt whisky that has now been turned into an exclusive, high-priced expression called Kelpie. The result is an impressive and eccentric spirit, even for that maker of exceptionally robust whisky. You can read my exclusive review of Ardbeg Kelpie at 1mansmalt.com.
Haunt of Hikers, Divers, and the Giant Spider Califorctenus of the Cacachilas
Situated between La Paz and El Sargento in Southern Baja
Before the 2017 announcement that a new genus of giant wandering spider was discovered there in an abandoned mine shaft, I had never heard of the Cacachilas Mountains, located in a relatively out of the way corner of Baja California Sur, the second-least populated state in Mexico.
As it turns out, the nearby sea coast is a popular place for scuba divers. And the Cacachilas themselves offer an expansive sunny landscape for hikers and burro riders who want to get away from it all and commune with some the wildlife. But don’t worry, the spider isn’t that venomous. And since it had gone undetected by science all these many centuries, it is safe to say you will likely never see one outside of a zoo, or perhaps an abandoned mine shaft.
As reported in the scientific journal Zootaxa, this spider also represents a newly discovered genus.
Allow me introduce you to Califorctenus cacachilensis (Cteninae, Ctenidae, Araneae), the giant spider of the Sierra Cacachilas.
OK, the arachnid in question measures about four inches across, with a body about one inch long. But compared to most spiders in the world, that qualifies as a giant to scientists. And it would seem that way to most anyone who felt one running up their leg, or had an encounter with its furry fangs.
In fact, this new species of wandering spider is reminiscent of the infamous Brazilian wandering spider, among the most venomous arachnids in the world. Also known as the banana spider, newspaper reports of my childhood wherein Brazilian wandering spiders hitchhiked to the USA amongst banana bunches, made me extremely wary of my mother’s grocery bags.
However, you would have go to the mountain caves at the extreme tip of Baja California to find this new creepy crawler, as that is where they were discovered, doing their wandering in the dark of night, in search of prey. But one reason this new spider has been declared the first species of a newly discovered genus is that it is not as venomous as its poisonous cousins from points father south.
While new species of spiders and insects are discovered all the time, it is rare for anything so conspicuously large to be found new to science these days.
You can read more about the discovery of this new spider at Smithsonian.com (since Zootaxa costs money to read and is rather dry in the telling.)
Robbie Robertson’s bronzed guitar from the historic Last Waltz concert recreated
This $14,500 limited edition Fender Stratocaster is a meticulous replica of the hot-rodded 1954 Strat Robertson had dipped in bronze to signify the final show of the Band, on Thanksgiving Day, 1976.
Although the other members of The Band reunited and played together for many years, Robbie Robertson never played with them again.
Perhaps more than any other guitarist, Robbie Robertson influenced my own sense of how to play fills as a lead guitarist.
But I am in good company there, Eric Clapton was so enamored of Robertson and the Band’s first album, Music from Big Pink, he said he was seriously considering quitting Cream and moving to Woodstock, NY to commune with the roots music rock band sometimes seen backing Bob Dylan.
Here is one of my all-time favorite performances played on the original article, you can see the gleam of the bronze in the stage lights, even on this lo-res archival footage.
Unfortunately and inexplicably, a pretty big chunk of the guitar solo was cut out of this song in Scorsese’ motion picture The Last Waltz. So here is the version from Winterland’s house archive camera, released after Bill Graham’s death, with the mix the audience actually heard.
I tried to synch up the mixed audio from the record album, with all its fancy EQ that combined the stage mix and house mix, but the actual timing on the CD version, the video on Youtube from the film, and this archival footage here, are all at different speeds so it was a no-go.
Also, you will notice the camera man stopped paying attention and pretty much misses Robertson’s playing on the solo – something that seems to happen VERY often when people are filming or video taping classic performances and end up shooting other people instead of showing iconic guitar solos I will only wish I could see in detail – or like in the Last Waltz film in general, where the editor keeps showing Robbie’s face contortions rather than what his hands are playing.
Jesse Sheidlower, former American editor of the OED, reviews the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, Second Edition at the New Yorker Online
Having grown up watching the CBC on Channel 9 out of Windsor, I always had affection for the rather civil Canadian ways of being and seeing, and speaking about the world. And I was always in awe of how the very best youth hockey teams we Ohioans could offer up were devoured like snacks by our jovial Canadian counterparts, who played the gim aboot as well as a gim could be played.
So I very much enjoyed reading this review and being reminded of so many Canadiansims, as well as learning about some previously unfamiliar ones.
“The entry for the stereotypical Canadian term “eh”—not included in the original edition—is almost five thousand words long, discussing its history (it’s first found in British English), its status as a marker of Canadian identity, its main functions (“Confirmational uses, Contesting uses, Pardon eh, and Narrative uses,” further divided into a number of subsenses), and its use in other English-speaking countries. “Hoser” is shown to have been created by the comedians Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, on “Second City TV,” in 1981. The development of “chesterfield”—once a common Canadianism for a sofa of any sort, but now somewhat moribund—is explored at length…
The dictionary also includes regionalisms from around the country. A “parkade” is a multilevel parking garage, found chiefly in Alberta and associated with the Hudson Bay department stores. “Bunny hug” is used in Saskatchewan for a hooded sweatshirt. In Quebec, “guichet” is a term for an A.T.M., from a Canadian French word for “counter.” Newfoundland is particularly well represented, thanks to its isolation and to an unusual Irish-dominated settlement history…”
Updated from the 1967 first edition of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, the DCHP-2 is a “greatly expanded edition, which took eleven years of work by a team of linguists at the University of British Columbia.”
Released to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday, this new edition was systematically re-conceptualized to focus upon 20th- and 21st-century words, along with revised meanings of various DCHP-1 entries.
Declaring it a “delightful dictionary,” Sheidlower takes minor exception to some lackluster photo illustrations provided for the online project, while praising its less than conservative use of modern research tools, and the inclusion of video still not typically utilized by scholarly websites.
And I found delightful Sheidlower’s own special way of using the English language to explore itself, as I always do. And that included the chuckle I had at the very end, when his parting line about this revised Dictionary of Canadianisms landed right on the button.
Beloved childhood comfort food leads to an annual ritual –
Beefaroni on my birthday
Chef Boyardee is a brand of canned pasta products. But once upon a time Chef Boyardee was the head of kitchen at the five-star Plaza Hotel. He is personally responsible for Americans associating “Italian food” with pasta and tomato sauce, and particularly spaghetti with meatballs.
Many of my earliest memories concern eatable entities, at the least the happiest ones. From Play-Doh, which is rather bland, but very salty, to Funny Face, a competitor of Kool-Aid, which my mom would put in milk to trick me into drinking that calcium delivery device, I have vivid remembrances attached to many eating and drinking experiences.
My dimmest memory is a view from my high chair, looking across some sort of food and out the kitchen to the front door some 40 feet away. It hovers in a corner of my mind, dark, as if it is night and all the lights are off. There is a photo of me in that very seat on my 1st birthday. But I assume the remembered event came a bit later.
When it comes to “real food,” there was my mother’s chili. Years later I sought out how she had made it, and was somewhat disappointed to learn it consisted of Campbell’s tomato soup with browned hamburger and about three pieces of raw onion per person. She didn’t even add the chili powder called for by the recipe on soup can.
Another favorite for me and my sister three years my junior was the macaroni and cheese made by our older sister when she would be babysitting us. Again, it proved a let down to learn it was simply boiled macaroni with a large brick of Velveeta melted throughout.
As my childhood comfort food pillars toppled one by one, only one has remained steadfast and forever satisfying. Chef Boyardee’s Beefaroni, part of this complete birthday feast.
Served in vintage Fiestaware!
2017’s Birthday Carbfest was just as grand.
I have enjoyed Beefaroni on my birthday for years beyond count, rarely missing the opportunity, whether I have it for lunch, or supper, as we called dinner back in Ohio, or squeezing it in as a late night snack.
I do not now remember when Beefaroni entered my life. But I remember clearly splitting one 15 oz can with my little sister, on many occasions, after walking home from school for lunch. Now I often have two full cans just for me. But I cannot buy the large cans, as the consistency just isn’t the same. And even with the regular cans, I have to put a good dozen of them to my ear and give them a shake to find the two with the least amount of slosh. Otherwise the sauce is too soupy.
A Surprising Pedigree
I was not able to find any data concerning when it was actually invented. But the chef on the can really was a chef, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, in fact. It was the premiere hotel in the United States. And to provide some perspective, today rooms start at $825 a night.
Ettore Boiardi worked in restaurants in Italy near Bologna, starting at age eight, and then followed his brother over to America in the early 1900s, where he is reputed to have worked his way up in the Plaza’s kitchen to Head Chef.
He also oversaw two major dinners for President Woodrow Wilson, his second wedding, and a White House homecoming dinner for 2,000 World War I veterans.
At some point he anglicized his name to Hector Boyardee, and opened a restaurant in 1926, at Woodland Avenue and East 9th Street, in Cleveland Ohio. Il Giardino d’Italia was both popular and influential in popularizing what we now think of as Italian food in America. As demand for his recipes grew, the Boyardee brothers opened a factory in Pennsylvania for their Bolognese-style dishes, which families could prepare at home. Spaghetti and meatballs soon became a national dish of America as well as Italy.
During World War II, the factory made rations for the U.S. Army, and returned to normal but increased production in peacetime, retaining all of its employees. But they had an added advantage: the vacuum-sealed can, and the machinery necessary to make it thanks to the War Department. And that is how just about every canned food you can think of came into being.
The company was eventually swallowed up by corporate giants, as family businesses usually are, but Chef Boyardee remained a figurehead well into the 1970s.
An Acquired Taste
A taste of the old country remains in Beefaroni, the humble carb and fat delivery device that remains every bit as good as it did when I was 8 years old.
I never liked canned pasta products, and still don’t with one important exception. And when the ingredients consist of hamburger, macaroni and sauce, the sauce matters a great deal. It can be any brand, they all have this same fakey orange color and are far too sugary. While tis true Beefaroni has its share of sugar, or actually corn syrup these days, it has always stood apart, with a tomato sauce that actually tastes (a lot) like the genuine article. I know some of my preference for Beefaroni is related to a pleasant sense memory from my boyhood. But it really is good. And it is not all that bad for you, with less sugar than many grocery store products that claim to be healthy.
Everyone has their favorite comfort foods from their childhood, and others have certain birthday foods they never grow tied of. What are yours?
Please use the Comments form below to share your favorites!
Here is a commercial I still remember clearly from long ago:
National Geographic turns a light on small cats usually out of sight
Awesome photography of these rarely seen felines by Joel Sartore
A fascinating article at nationalgeographic.com focuses on various cat species from around the globe many that most people have rarely seen, or even heard of.
“Advances in genotyping and sequencing reveal that Earth’s 31 small cat species hail from seven distinct lineages, each named for the first discovered species in the line.” Thus the title statement accompanying a chart showing who is related the to whom.
While large in size, the modern day cheetahs and pumas (aka cougars, North American mountain lions) are genetically related to small cats. This is why they do not roar like lions, tigers, and panthers (which include leopards and jaguars) due to a different bone structure in the neck, but can actually purr like a typical house cat.
But the world is full of all sorts of other cats that can appear familiar or incredibly exotic, and which are often singular in their remarkable habits. Or rather, it was once full of them. The all too familiar destruction of natural habitats by our own species has endangered many of this secretive members of our extended planetary family.
I have been a lover of cats since Year One
But some of the furry felines in this informative article by Christine Dell’Amore were new even to me.
You can read the article and see all of the wonderful photos HERE.