Archive for November, 2023

Notes on a Class

About three Tuesdays ago, I was in my office getting ready for my classes the following day when an extraordinary thing happened – I couldn’t remember anything. Oh, I knew my name and I knew where I was and after a quick look at my driver’s license and a couple coolly-worded questions to my colleague, those things were confirmed. I mean I couldn’t remember anything about the last class.

I looked through the coursebook for a reminder, but everything came up blank. A mild panic ensued, until I realized I was looking at the wrong book and, probably more problematic, was trying to plan the wrong class. This brought its own level of terror, but I quelled that by finding someone else to blame. The matter was all but closed.

But then my stupid brain started thinking, which never anywhere good. Brain said I should probably remember something that happened six days earlier. Brain also said I could probably do some things to remember things better, further explaining that I could probably locate some of these techniques on the ‘internet’ a thing I mostly used for work, for cat memes, and to find out who won the Eagles game. On the way home, I punished brain for its insolence with several blasts of 80 proof liquids (that’ll show em!). The problem is, brain doesn’t get quieter until like glass four of those liquids. From glass one to three, brain is loosened up and makes observations, some of which aren’t even ridiculous.

At the end of the evening, I had decided to make notes throughout each class to show that I was being present. These notes might be extemporaneous of language and involve the mood, the feel, tensions, a thing or activity which had gone particular poorly or particularly well (usually the latter). And it would all be in the hopes that I could look back the following week and be transported to not only the structure of the lesson, but also the lesson itself as it occurred with a whole bunch of people. (It should be noted that brain also came up with the idea to build a boat from all of my furniture and live on the Vltava ‘in peace’. But that was after five glasses of said liquid.)

And so, for three weeks I did just that. In each class, I’d make a note when class started and a note about how I felt and anything extraordinary that happened (nothing, so I had to make something up). Then, several times throughout class, like some learned (hard -ed) teacher, I’d step off to my notebook and jot a note. It all went more or less swimmingly, until I read those notes last week.

Last Tuesday, planning a class, I found that I needed a nudge to help remind me about the last class. Perhaps, I thought, I can not only get information, but help carry over some of the juice which had propelled the last class forward. I swung back through my notes with the cockiness of the well-prepared. I was gifted for my efforts. As long as ‘gift’ means shows that I am a lunatic who should no longer be allowed in public.

Tuesday: 10:30–12:00            14.11.23

Class Notes

10:30 –

Class has started. Where is everyone?

10:38 – six people come in late. Six! This is the future of society!? These are the people who will be taking care of me in my old age?! Well, hopefully when I need my diaper changed, they won’t be eight minutes late!!

10:51 – How could they have misunderstood those directions? They were to read a sentence and fill the blank with the correct verb. We did an example. This is intentional. That’s what they were doing in those eight minutes before they came in – chatting about ways to mess with me. Argh.

11:03 – Do lawyers have a better life than this? Is it too late to go to law school?

11:09 – Man, this pen sucks. N ed a n w pen. Lo k at t is cr p, this pen can b rely get through a senten e without b ea ing. A g ! I b t lawy rs get be ter p ns.

11:21 – Oh, glory be! I found a better pen in my bag. Joy Joy Joy. Why does everyone hate November? I like November. It’s close to Christmas, which means two weeks of eating what I want. Also, food.

11:23 – Oh my God. I think someone farted.

11:23:08 – Yeah, it was me.

11:26 – 24 minutes left! Just 24 minutes left!!! Happy days are coming in 24 minutes!

11:41 – I’m hungry. I think I only brought a grapefruit and oatmeal. I hate morning me.

11:42 – Maybe I’ll get a kebab. IN 8 MINUTES!!!! Wait, I think someone just asked a question.

11:43 – Nah, they got it sorted out amongst themselves.

11:48 – The world seems bet er a ain…wa t a sec nd, ba ! Th s pen s cks to !  

11:50 – class is over! Complete mindfulness attained. I’m es ent ally Bud ha.  

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Martinmas Part II

Last Saturday, November 11, people all across Europe celebrated the feast of Saint Martin. In the Czech Republic and Germany, people opened the first young wine of the season at 11:11 am on 11.11; many others ate goose – the traditional Saint Martin dish. Others drank whatever they could in order to deal with the people who’d been drinking wine since 11 am. But what’s the story with this November holiday which targets fowl and celebrates young booze?

November 11th belongs to Saint Martin of Tours. Like many saints, Martin of Tours was something of a jack of all trades – soldier, monk, bishop, saint. Like many saints, his life was rather picaresque of the very good or the very bad. He gave half of his cloak to a freezing beggar one cold November day. He tried to avoid becoming a bishop by hiding out in a barn. Like many saints, he died an agonizing death (crushed between two mill wheels). On November 11th (his crushing date) we call upon superstitions and symbolism. He was ousted from the barn by a noisy goose, which he had cooked and thus we eat goose. Because of Martin’s good deed with the cloak, God grants us a few warm days in November called ‘Saint Martin’s Summer’. Because of Martin’s past as a soldier and pacifist, World War I ceased on 11.11 at 11:11.  

But Martinmas, like many other liturgical days, falls on a day already important to huge swaths of European society. Martinmas, like Halloween (or Samhain) is a transition day, for eons serving as the change from autumn to winter. It is known as Old Halloween, Martlemas, or Old Halloween Eve. The original date for Samhain, Martinmas was moved due to the Gregorian calendar’s pesky tendency to drop days. So even without Martin and his geese and deeds, Europeans practiced customs on this day with clear emphasis on food, booze, and practicality.  

As Martinmas marked the end of harvest season and beginning of winter, it was also a day of practical importance to the agricultural peoples of Europe. Animals were slaughtered and harvests were collected. Much surrounding those things came to an end or started. Leases were ended and started, rents were due, wages were paid, seasonal ploughmen and other workers finished their work contracts and prepared to move on. Hiring fairs were organized and a new set of itinerant workers was hired for the following season. People brought their work inside, men dropped their farm equipment and picked up crafts and mugs filled with alcohol.

Twas the season to be boozed up. The end of season meant a period of celebration, but rather than boohooing the end of summer, Martinmas welcomed the winter. Not to be feared, the winter was considered a period of indulgence. The outside time of the year was over for now so it was time to enjoy indoor activities: feasting, drinking, and partying – a song, by the way, I have been singing for three decades. It was all kicked off by Martinmas, went through Christmas and into Candlemas. (You’re no doubt noting a trend to these revel days, I suggest making festive days by adding the suffix -mas to everything. Fridaymas, Tuesdaymas, or My Birthdaymas has a nice ring.) On Martinmas they drank, ate, and took part in ancient customs like mumming and bonfires. They sent off farmhands with a feast, a thanks, their pay, and a hangover.   

There would have been no better time of year to feast. Animals would have been freshly slaughtered – pig, goose, and beef would have been enjoyed by all. The Germans called November ‘blood month’ for reasons that make us flinch and animals sprint for the hills. Records from a 1492 monastic Martinmas feast show beef, mutton, ale, and wine. The sheer proportions made it three times larger than their Christmas feast and suggested that they probably involved local poor in the festivities (sharing with the less fortunate as Martin had). They paid singers and minstrels and put them up for the night. Similar accounts for churches, communities, and colleges mention eel, paycock, swan, goose, pig, and beef. It was a great day of the year to be a hungry human and a less great time to be a domestic animal or a bird who lived near water.  

That Martin is the patron saint of winemakers, soldiers, tailors, cloak makers, goose haters, and millers (sick joke) – all tracks. But he also happens to be the patron saint of shoemakers, tanners, leather-dressers, glovers, purse-makers, and parchment-makers. All no doubt owing to the many things made from the abundance of recently abandoned hides lying around at the end of the Martinmas slaughter. If you were an animal in November, someone was going to eat you and then wear you.   

But Martinmas was big on the other side of feasting too – getting pickled. It was a time to revel with young wine, ale, and hot ale posset. In his 1592 satire, Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Divell, Thomas Nashe lays out the eight kinds of drunkenness, the sixth kind of which is a ‘martin drunk’ – a man who’d drunk ‘himself sober ere he stir’. Social drinking at its best. The German and Dutch agreed, terming ‘Martinsman’ a ‘jovial festival drunkard’. An early Scots weather proverb goes ‘between Martinmas and Yule, water’s wine in every pool’. AKA: The forecast calls for extended periods of wine-drunk idiots peeing in your bushes. Although references to the common Martinmas drinker seems to allude to a cheerful, fun-loving drinker, some never got the parchment. It was a day of excess, filled with drunken quarrels and, naturally, jousting. Because what you really need when binge drinking is to be atop a horse with a giant sharp stick charging another drunk atop a horse with another giant sharp stick. If they didn’t get killed or lose their faces, people acted out of line. One 1421 record shows that a John Hedon (no joke) ‘became disorderly and propounded inane questions, uttering opprobrious words against his companions’. In other words, Uncle John ruined another Martinmas with his opprobrious propounding! John was fined 12d; others not so lucky. Some took advantage of this day of revelry by unfairly sneak attacking their enemies. They’d catch their enemy not only off-guard, but shitfaced or hungover. Something I think should be mentioned in the Geneva Convention with opprobrious words.

This all is a formal way of saying what we have known for years – November is a time to prepare for winter, to revel, to drink and to eat heartily, to fatten up for the cold months. It’s practically in our bones and fatty cells. Jeans tight in December? Who cares? You are only following your historical directives. Leave your worries and weight loss for the spring and summer. Today, we drink and dine.

To celebrate we’re going to concoct a posset. The adventurous among you might just drink it, too. This is a drink of ale, curdled milk, and spices. It should make you forget any problem you have as long as that problem isn’t lactose intolerance. The posset dates back to at least the medieval period. It appeared in John Russell’s Boke of Nurture in 1460 and if there’s one thing we know about 1460, it’s that people were less comfortable than we are today, the TV shows weren’t as good, and shitting yourself to death at age 20 was not uncommon. So, they knew how to make a drink. (Nota bene: this drink will not make you shit yourself to death, but please see above comment on lactose intolerance).

Ingredients

–        Two egg yolks

–        1.2 cups of Cream (or 1/10 of a pottle for you Olde English nerds)

–        A pint of your favorite ale, or lots of those

–        Cinnamon stick or a bit of powder

–        Nutmeg

–        Sugar

–        A pot

–        A posset pot (or any glass that has handles)

–        Pants with an elastic waistband (or no pants at all, who are we to judge?)

Directions

Mix up two egg yolks and set them aside. Boil the cream, add a cinnamon stick (or powder). Revel in the warmth of it all. Mock those who do not revel. Strain the eggs with a little cream. When the cream is well boiled and as thick as your Uncle Jim remove from heat and add the eggs. In another pot heat up your ale/beer with some sugar (Why not? It’s cold outside!) Take a moment to think of Martin crushed between two mill wheels. Then add some nutmeg. When all is heated, inhale deeply and enjoy the atmosphere of a medieval Martinmas celebration ozzing into your kitchen (sans the ubiquitous stench of feces and the tormented shrieking of animals being butchered). Then pour the cream and egg (after removing the cinnamon stick) into your beer and drink. Drink to Martinmas, to the reveling season, and to the god of elastic waistbands.

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Saint Martin’s Day

It’s an ugly Saturday – wet, cold, early dark, the sort of day that’s ideal to watch Harry meet Sally or Andrew Lincoln kill zombies and everyone else he meets. However, we have been invited by friends to Czanksgiving. This is a Thanksgiving feast created by a friend of ours that blends Czech and American. So, alongside our turkey and mashed sweet potatoes we have Czech dumplings and cabbage. The booze is of international variety, the conversation is warm, and we soon forget about the rainy day and lean our shoulders full force into merriment and mirth.

When our friend’s brother arrives, everyone wishes him a happy name day (Martin) and, having completely forgotten, I of course jump on board so as not to look like a schmuck. As I stand in the corner drinking pear brandy and listening to the different stories being told, I review what I remember about Saint Martin’s Day.

There’s a lot going on with November 11, Saint Martin’s Day – or, if you prefer, Martinmas, Martinmesse, Martlemas, Old Halloween or Old Hallowmas Eve. As you may have guessed from the list of names, St. Martin’s Day is an ancient holiday. Sort of like a Halloween in the Roman world, like Halloween (or Samhain) it too marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Harvests were collected, animals slaughtered. It was the end of the economic year, workers were paid, and it was time to wish farewell to travelling ploughmen. Work was done, and so it was the beginning of the winter revelry season, marked by storytelling and mumming.

Helping them in their revelry was the first wine of the season. Saint Martin’s Day is traditionally linked to the pouring of the first young, fruity wine of the season. Combining this with the first animal slaughter makes it a pretty big day historically. But in many European cultures, the wine was poured for people outside the city gates. In Prague, the first pour takes place at 11:11 am on 11.11. So, as you can imagine, by the time we were running across the city to visit our friends, the people we encountered were pretty red-faced and cheery.

If something taking place at 11:11 on 11.11 sounds significant, it should. The Great War was ended at those exact coordinates and this is why in Europe this day is Armistice Day and in the U.S. Veterans Day. But the Great War was not the first conflict ended nor the first treaty signed on this day. The Treaty of Granada in 1500 divided the Kingdom of Naples between Louis XII and Ferdinand II of Aragaon. The Treaty of Zstiva-Torok (1606) was a peace treaty which ended the 15-year Long Turkish War between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg monarchy. The Canandaigua Treaty in 1794, the Treaty of Sinchula in 1865 – Bhutan ceded lands east of the Teesta River to the British East India Company.

Perhaps this goes back to St. Martin who is the hero of St. Martin’s Day, well, after the church takes things over from the pagans. It’s within Saint Martin that we see lots of themes associated with this day. He was a soldier until he threw down his arms and refused to fight. He was a bishop, gave half of his cloak to a beggar that ended up being Jesus (good guess!), and spent a night sleeping in a goose den.

Nevertheless, and no matter the motivation, merriment was had by all. Then some more. Then some more. I didn’t eat goose, but I did eat two birds (turkey and duck). And I didn’t drink any wine, but I drank enough beer and pear brandy and gather that St. Martin and the itinerant ploughmen would have been proud. It was a lovely night and the bad weather stayed at the door.   

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Two Weeks

I love reading. But it wasn’t always that way. I remember the days when I was punished by being sent to my room with a book and being ‘forced’ to spend an entire afternoon whiling away the hours just reading and occasionally daydreaming about being on the cast of The Real Ghostbusters. When I got more into reading in my early twenties, I realized the foolishness of looking that particular gift horse in the mouth. 

When I finally took to reading, I never looked back. I buried myself in all sorts and ate them up. And reading has been its own education. Not just in the obvious ways, but also an education about myself. One who lies to themselves about reading is in for a tough row. Books take a few days to a few weeks to read and if you pretend you like Sartre when you really prefer Terry Pratchett, well, it’s going be a rough one. 

It was perhaps two months ago when I realized that it was taking me a very long time to finish books. Why was that, I wondered. One of the many voices in my brain piped up and coughed and pointed to my phone, the slutty succubus who hangs out in my pocket and drains me of all energy to intellectual pursuits or things that don’t rhyme with Creddit. But then there was also the fact that I am very busy and therefore, at the end of the day, very tired. When I finally stop my work on any given day, I am exhausted and find that Netflix has a better chance of being watched than just about anything else that might happen. 

But as it had taken me two months to read a 312 page mystery novel, a change had to be made. I have therefore created an edict. Whenever I open a book, I have two weeks – 14 days – to read it. I am now trying to come up with some punishment for if I fail. 

If you have any ideas – that will not result in bodily harm to anyone in my house – feel free to comment. If you would like to join me, please let me know. As you know, misery loves company. Or at least I read that somewhere and it didn’t take two months to get.  

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