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Lent ends on the evening of Holy Saturday, generally timed around the first Easter Vigil service.

Many Christians enjoy attending Easter Vigil services to see the blessing and lighting of the Paschal Candle, which is lit at services for the next 40 days, until Ascension Day.

New holy water is blessed in Catholic and High Anglican churches. (Chrism Masses would have been held on Wednesday of Holy Week, at which time bishops bless the oil used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Anointing of the Sick and Dying for the next year.)

Traditionally, catechumens — newcomers to the faith — are baptised at this service.

The following post has more information:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

During the day, families are busy purchasing and preparing festive dishes for Easter Day. A popular custom among Polish Catholics is to have their food blessed at church.

(Image credit: annhetzelgunkel.com)

The following post, with the help of the aforementioned website, explains the importance of these traditional ingredients:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Every Christian culture has certain food traditions. In 2016, Mary Berry, the doyenne of English home cooks, presented a two-part programme for the BBC in which she explored different Easter treats from around the world. Find out more below:

Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

A French cooking site has an interesting article on Easter food in Europe and Algeria. ‘Gâteaux de Pâques traditionnels’ has excellent close-up photographs by way of illustration. A summary of the article follows along with my own commentary.

France

In Alsace, the traditional Easter cake is made in the shape of a lamb. It was originally called Osterlammele — Easter lamb — suggesting its German origins.

Easter cakes in other European countries are also in lamb shapes, using special moulds. Polish lamb cakes are elaborately iced and decorated.

The one from Alsace is plainer, lightly dusted with icing sugar. Traditionally, it was wrapped in fine paper in the colours of Alsace or the Vatican.

Regardless of decoration, lamb cakes are rich in eggs, which were traditionally forbidden during Lent.

Wherever it is used, the lamb shape reminds us of the goodness of Christ and that we should follow His example.

All Recipes provides the instructions. The video below might not be the most expert, but I did enjoy watching the two young lads make a lamb cake:

Italy

Pasteria Napoletana is a popular Easter tart.

Its origins go back to pagan times, when a special bread made from spelt was offered to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, in springtime.

Wikipedia says that it is possible that early bread evolved into a ritual bread made of honey and milk which catechumens received after their baptism on Easter Eve during the reign of Constantine.

In the 18th century, one of the nuns at the convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, which still exists today, was responsible for the version eaten today. She wanted to create a tart that symbolised the Resurrection, including orange blossom water from the convent’s garden.

The symbolism is as follows: wheat for rebirth, flour for force and strength, eggs for infinity, white ricotta for purity and orange blossom water — along with dried fruit, spices and sugar — for richness.

Wikipedia says that the nuns were ‘geniuses’ in preparing these tarts, which had to be made on Maundy Thursday in order to set properly for Easter. They were then given to wealthy benefactors for the Easter table.

Although variations exist — sometimes with pastry cream added — each must have wheat and ricotta to be considered authentic.

Laura in the Kitchen has a recipe and a video:

Portugal

At Easter, the Portuguese eat folar, bread which can be sweet or savoury.

Sometimes folar is wrapped around whole eggs (before baking) to symbolise new life.

Other variations include chorizo or other charcuterie.

Traditionally, this bread is given to priests, godparents or godchildren as a symbol of happiness and prosperity.

The lady in the video below makes a savoury folar in the most traditional way — in a bread trough. The film is in Portuguese, but you can check it for consistency and shaping while you follow a recipe, in this case from Pocket Cultures:

Austria

Austrians celebrate Easter by including on their tables a rich brioche called Osterpinze or Pinza. (Oster means ‘Easter’.)

This brioche originated in southern Austria. It is shaped into three petals — no doubt to symbolise the Holy Trinity — and sometimes has a coloured Easter egg — the Resurrection and new life — in the centre. Orange blossom water is used in the dough. Some variations also include dried fruits for extra richness.

The Austrians adapted this recipe from pannetone. Italy borders the southern part of the country.

The Bread She Bakes has a recipe in English. Although the video below is in German, watch this gentleman’s techniques:

Algeria

Although Algeria is primarily Muslim today, it is important to remember that North Africa was the cradle of the early Church. One could certainly put forward a case for Christianity being an African faith, because it spread to Europe later.

Christians in Algeria ate Mouna Oranaise at Easter. La Mouna — a mountain — is situated outside of Oran, Algeria’s second largest city. Christians from Oran went to this mountain to celebrate Easter and to break bread.

Although the French article does not say, it seems likely that the bread developed into a brioche when the French arrived and took its present-day form.

All good brioches take time, and the Mouna takes six hours to rise: four initially, after which the dough is divided into two and left to rise for another two hours.

The Mouna has a rich egg glaze and is topped with pearl sugar.

Today, people of all faiths eat Mouna. A Muslim included the recipe on her Pinterest page. A YouTube video appears on the Sephardic (Jewish) food channel.

Christian pied-noirs brought the Mouna recipe to France as an Easter speciality. Make a brioche dough and include orange flower water or lemon zest. Knead the dough well — or use a food processor with a dough hook — to ensure the dough is nice and light:

I am sure that some of these Easter treats cross borders. I am particularly interested in hearing from others with regard to breads and pastries. Feel free to comment below!

In the meantime, I hope that everyone’s Easter preparations go well!

The following images come from #ChristmasMorning.

This was my favourite:

Donald Trump received applause and a standing ovation when he went to a Christmas Eve service. This is the Episcopal church where he and Melania were married:

Please note that the following film is not as billed. The young men in the film are not Muslim. They are Italians who pulled down a Wishing Tree in Naples — in 2015:

 

On Holy Saturday, the last day of Holy Week, Catholics and Protestants look forward to celebrating our Lord’s resurrection and preparing a feast for family and friends.

You might find my past posts about Holy Saturday helpful in understanding its significance:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Last week, I summarised the first part of English food journalist Mary Berry’s look at Easter food traditions in various countries and denominations, encompassing those in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland.

The second, concluding part of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 aired this week. Berry’s enthusiasm for Easter as both a religious and gastronomic feast matches mine, which is part of what made the programme so enjoyable.

Christians make special breads at this time of year to recall Jesus as the Bread of Life. Lamb is also popular, as He is the Lamb of God, the once perfect sacrifice for our sins. As the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd John Sentamu explained, ‘Easter is the Passover of the Lord’.

Greece – tsoureki

Berry visited St Sophia’s Cathedral in London, a breathtakingly beautiful Greek Orthodox church.

Fr Savas, the priest who gave her a tour of the cathedral, said that 1,000 faithful normally attend Midnight Mass on Holy Saturday. Everyone takes a lit candle home and blesses their home with the light of the Resurrection.

Fr Savas’s cousin Katarina made the traditional Easter bread — tsoureki — for Berry. It is a plaited (braided) bread with a red coloured hard boiled egg at the top. The three plaits symbolise the Holy Trinity. The egg symbolises Jesus Christ, and the red colour represents His blood that He shed for our redemption.

Tsoureki dough is an enriched one, resembling a brioche. It is flavoured with two spices: one, mastiha, which comes from tree resin and the other, mahlepi, from ground cherry stones which gives it an almond flavour.

Before baking, the tsoureki is glazed with egg wash and topped with sesame seeds. My Little Expat Kitchen has a recipe that looks like the one Katarina used.

The Netherlands – Easter Men

With the help of her grandchildren, Berry showed us the Dutch Easter Men recipe that she makes every year.

She saw them many years ago on a trip to Holland around Easter and was intrigued.

Berry likes the simplicity of the one-rise bread dough used to make this charming little bread of a man holding an egg — the risen Christ — in his arms.

Once the dough is risen, Berry portions it out and cuts into each one to shape the head, the arms and the legs. She secures a raw egg in the folded arms and decorates the heads with raisins or blackcurrants for simple facial features. She glazes the men with egg wash and bakes them for 25 minutes. The egg cooks as the bread bakes.

This is a simple, straightforward recipe that children will enjoy. They can help shape the limbs, once cut, and decorate the faces.

The Philippines – lechon

Berry visitied a Catholic Filipina, May, who made her a roast pork dish called lechon, an Easter staple in the Philippines.

May explained that, traditionally, lechon is a whole hog roast. Her father used to roast several hogs at Easter when she was growing up in the Philippines. Friends, neighbours and family would then join in for a massive Easter feast.

For home cooks, May recommends pork belly. She brined one with thyme, crushed lemongrass and bay leaves. After several hours, she removed the pork belly from the brine and patted it completely dry, enabling it to crisp when baking.

May laid it out flat, skin side down, and, in the centre, placed a few stems of crushed lemongrass, several spring onions cut lengthwise in half and added a lot of crushed garlic on top before seasoning well with salt and pepper. She then rolled the pork belly tightly and tied it well with butcher’s string.

Once roasted, the lechon had a glossy, dark outer skin. Inside, the meat was moist and tender. The belly fat had cooked out, with some going into the meat. As this recipe has no crackling — the outer skin is too hard to eat — it might be suitable for cooks who prefer less fatty, yet succulent, pork.

May explained that the Spanish introduced lechon to the Philippines centuries ago.

The dish is also popular in Cuba.

England – roast lamb

Berry went to York to watch the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu — a political prisoner from Idi Amin’s Uganda who moved to England 42 years ago — make her own recipe for roast lamb.

Sentamu and his wife Elizabeth both talked about how important Easter was for their large families in Africa. Sentamu’s mother taught him and his siblings how to cook. His father insisted not only on roast lamb on Easter but also curried goat and curried chicken.

He and Elizabeth have been using Berry’s lamb recipe ever since they saw it on television years ago. Berry confessed that she’d long forgotten about it, but it looks very tasty, especially with the touches the Sentamus have added over the years.

The Archbishop cut the main bone out of the leg of lamb. He took several thin slices of deli ham, spread a herb (predominantly rosemary leaves) and garlic mix over each slice and layered them neatly one on top of the other. He rolled the layered ham neatly and inserted it into the middle of the lamb.

He layered his roasting tray generously with tarragon and placed the lamb on top. Around it he put several onion halves. He took a bottle of white wine and poured it until it just covered the onions.

Once the roast was resting, he strained the juices from the roasting pan and made a sumptuous gravy. My mouth was watering. The Sentamu family must surely look forward to lunch on Easter!

Italy – Easter dove bread

Colomba di Pasqua is a traditional Italian bread made in a dove mould, although it can be made in a round one.

The dove symbolises Christ, the Prince of Peace.

To see it made, Berry visited Maria, who cooks for the priests and visiting clergy at St Peter’s Italian Church in London’s Little Italy.

The dough is enriched, as for a brioche, and contains currants and orange peel. It requires a 12-hour rise.

Maria placed the dough into a dove-shaped mould and topped it with whole almonds and crushed sugar. This recipe, which includes a picture, resembles Maria’s. The sugar bakes into the top of the bread leaving an appetising topping.

I wished I’d been with the two very happy priests when she served it to them. They tucked in with gusto.

Easter feast

Nearly all of the show’s participants and their families gathered at Berry’s parish church in the Home Counties not far from London for a sumptuous Easter feast.

They brought their special dishes and Berry brought hers. If you can see the hour-long episode, you’ll agree with me that it was a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable occasion. I would love to have been there.

Everyone got along famously and tried to learn each other’s language. It was a beautiful sight as many promised to keep in touch with each other.

I hope that everyone’s Easter feast is as special as Mary Berry’s.

As we eat, may we remember the risen Christ and give thanks for His resurrection from the dead and His promise to us of life everlasting.

European politicians are increasingly worried about the migration crisis and how it ties in with the upcoming UK referendum on EU membership.

On January 25, 2016, The Guardian reported that former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta said it would be better if the UK delayed the referendum until 2017, when he thinks the migration crisis will have subsided.

The referendum might be held this summer, which worries Letta:

… the link between the two issues will be terrible.

On the contrary, it could even be worse by next year if we are forced to take in 90,000 migrants in 2016 and contemplate their eventual family reunification process in the meantime.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempts at renegotiating our membership prior to the referendum have also frightened his EU peers (emphases mine):

Letta was among a phalanx of senior European politicians, including two former prime ministers, who said the British renegotiation agenda was either completely impossible, self-defeating or, at points, crazy. In particular, Britain was warned that its plan to prevent non-UK citizens from receiving in-work benefits for four years could attack one of the key tenets of the union, since it threatened the principle of free movement of workers and would require a treaty change that other EU countries would not tolerate.

A bigger problem might be the automatic right for an EU citizen to claim benefits without being in work.

The Dutch, the Poles and the French are upset. France’s former Europe minister Noëlle Lenoir accused the UK of putting the immigration crisis in the forefront of Britons’ minds rather than the the principles of the free market.

Meanwhile, veteran Guardian columnist Michael White fears that the immigration crisis could create any number of Donald Trumps in Europe. However, even he grudgingly admitted that comparisons between the current situation and the Fall of the Roman Empire might have some merit.

He is old enough to remember DPs — displaced persons — coming to Western Europe, including the UK, after the Second World War. He says the continent was ‘full of’ such people, meaning that our present influx is very similar. I wonder, but I do not think so, otherwise everyone over the age of 70 would be claiming that. And they aren’t. Also, the DPs looked forward to practising their religion in peace and working hard for a living. I have never heard or read of any assimilation problems relating to them, probably because they were fellow Europeans.

The Anglican priest, the Revd Giles Fraser, worries that some in Britain are stigmatising our refugees. Whilst I agree with him that it is ill-advised for Middlesbrough’s refugee homes to have red doors (now being repainted) and for Welsh asylum seekers to wear red wristbands (since dropped) as a means of identification, to claim that we are in the run-up to a 21st century Holocaust seems wide of the mark.

Fraser then points a finger at the recent Charlie Hebdo cartoon which conflates the late little Aylan Kurdi with migrant adolescents who are teenage bum-gropers. In the process, Fraser mistranslates fesses, which is the word for ‘buttocks’, not ‘a*s’.

Actually, given recent events in Europe this month, that cartoon — whilst meant as a poke at racists — might be more prescient then the magazine had anticipated.

Guardian readers spent several days and a few hundred comments debating the cartoon and what it meant. One wrote:

I think it’s saying that you start off getting all dewy-eyed about a dead boy, and end up inviting a horde of bum-gropers into your country.

Adding:

Did the right in France cry at the sight to the dead boy? Did they change their policy towards migrants because of the picture and demand that all and sundry be accepted because we must think of the children?

Because if they didn’t, then the picture of A[y]lan doesn’t ‘satirise’ them, but the virtue-signallers who failed to see the risks.

But I agree that my interpretation is only one of many possible explanations.

And how is it that so many have entered? Yes, we know about the boat smugglers, but a fascinating, informative article from 2015 by Nicholas Farrell for The Spectator explains how Italy accommodated them over the years, to the point where Italy’s leftist government in 2013

took the extraordinary step of decriminalising illegal immigration, which means among other things that none of the boat people are arrested once on dry land. Instead, they are taken to ‘Centri di accoglienza’ (welcome centres) for identification and a decision on their destinies. In theory, only those who identify themselves and claim political asylum can remain in Italy until their application is refused — or, if it is accepted, indefinitely. And in theory, under the Dublin Accords, they can only claim political asylum in Italy — the country where they arrived in the EU. In practice, however, only a minority claim political asylum in Italy. Pretty well all of them remain there incognito, or else move on to other EU countries.

The numbers have been so overwhelming that police do not force registration, which includes consenting to a photograph and fingerprints. Many migrants just disappear. Those who do decide to go into the accommodation centres are given mobile phones and €3 a day pin money as well as lessons in ice-cream making or driving.

Farrell says that, in 2014, 64,000 asylum seekers submitted their applications to the Italian authorities. However, the government was able to only process half of those claims. Those whose claims were refused can still stay in the country indefinitely because of human rights laws. Italy deported only 6,944 people that year.

When the influx is particularly heavy, Italian police bus migrants in to larger towns and cities, leaving them in town centre squares or main railway stations.

Untreated health issues, including diseases Europeans thought were long gone, pose a real risk:

Scabies is rife (of 46,000 migrants tested this year, 4,700 were infested) and one in four migrants is said by doctors to have Hepatitis C.

And 2016 looks to be no different: 400,000 migrants could be headed for Italy in the next few weeks. With Schengen hanging in the balance, passport checks are back in place, meaning that those arriving in Italy may well have to stay there. Breitbart explains:

As a country of first arrival, Italy has more to lose from the breakdown of Schengen than any other European nation, perhaps with the exception of Greece. In 2015 alone more than 150,000 migrants reached Italian shores, but the vast majority continued north, with many heading to France, Germany or the countries of Scandinavia. Now that the Schengen Treaty is all but a dead letter, the Alps have once again become an insurmountable barrier.

In this dramatic panorama the bulk of the migrants are expected to come through the “Balkan route,” and according to experts, some 400 thousand immigrants will be arriving in the coming weeks. Sources at the Interior Ministry have also expressed fears that many migrants will begin to circumvent Greece and Croatia and come directly to the ports of Ancona and Bari in southern Italy.

Perhaps it is time for Italy or the EU to consult the Australians for advice.

Farrell says we have no moral obligation to take migrants in these circumstances:

All of us feel it to be our moral duty to save lives where we can. Yet it cannot be our moral duty to ferry such vast numbers across the Mediterranean into Italy and Europe for ever, unless they are genuine refugees. In fact, our moral duty is not to do so

The same applies to land crossings. This year, it will become incumbent on individual countries or the EU to come up with a comprehensive and sensible refugee migration policy.

Until recently, SpouseMouse and I have always disagreed about grappa.

SpouseMouse saw no point to it — ‘rough discards’ — whereas I had always heard great things about it.

In 2013, we were lucky enough to be invited to a wine and spirits tasting the evening before my birthday in the run-up to Christmas.

On offer was Nardini Grappa Bianca Classic. Oh, my. Oh, my. Oh, my. What a revelation.

(Photo credit: Nardini)

The Bianca Classic has strong chocolate overtones with a suggestion of licorice. I told the Frenchman running the tasting that it was worth sousing my chocolate Yule log with a spoonful or two of it. He was horrified. He couldn’t taste the chocolate, which surprised me.

SpouseMouse kindly bought me a bottle for my birthday. I finished it, somewhat late, on my birthday this year. Even then, after having had only one glass, I could still smell and taste chocolate the next day.

There are other fine grappas, but I think I’ll stick with this one for now. Fortunately, we have another bottle for another birthday!

The Italians are right to insist on enjoying grappa with coffee and after dinner chocolate. It provides a fantastic finish.

Rome File says:

Grappa is a wonderful way to end a meal, drunk either as a shot on its own or added to an espresso (in which case it’s known in Italy as a caffè coretto, or a “corrected coffee”). The Instituto Nazionale Grappa, the body that represents most of the grappa producers in Italy, recommends serving shots in small tulip-shaped glasses with open rims, rather than balloons or narrow glasses.

Many Italian households serve grappa straight from the freezer, giving it an icy, crisp taste, while the Instituto Nazionale Grappa recommends serving young grappa at between 9 and 13 degrees Celsius, and riserva at around 17 degrees. Freezing can affect the flavour of a good grappa, but it’s a perfectly acceptable way to enjoy the drink. As Nick Hopewell-Smith says, ‘you take something away when you chill it, but if it makes it more accessible to people and people are more likely to try it and enjoy it, then why not?’

I’ve not had it frozen. To me, the Bianca Classic is perfect at room temperature.

The Italians also believe that grappa is an excellent digestif, aiding the digestion process.

A few words of advice about grappa:

1/ Serve in a small liqueur or port glass if you do not have grappa glasses. Purists still prefer shot glasses.

2/ It is perfectly acceptable to sip and savour it, rather than downing it in one.

3/ One or two glasses will do. It has a high alcohol content.

4/ Outside of Italy, it is expensive — think tax. Treat yourself and those closest to you on high days and holidays — Christmas, New Year, Easter and birthdays. Once you open a bottle, finish it within a year to enjoy grappa at its best.

5/ Be discerning about whom you serve it to. This is a special drink which should provide beautiful gustatory memories months or years later.

Above all, avoid cheap grappa!

Grappa, Italy’s aquavit, is made from pomace — the grape skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from wine pressing. Grappa is the product of steam-distilled pomace with no added water. It can only be made in Italy, the tiny republic of San Marino and the Italian part of Switzerland.

Bortolo Nardini began making grappa in 1779, when he bought an inn near the wooden covered bridge, Bassano, on the Brenta River. The bridge features on Nardini labels.

Nardini’s inn and his grappa became popular with Venetians, travellers and businessmen. He served it in a shot glass.

Venice was Nardini’s first principal market. Over the centuries, the company continued to expand. Today, the firm also ships to China, Australia, Japan and the United States.

It is better to save up for a bottle of good grappa rather than to waste money on an inferior, rough product. Buy the best and you’ll have no regrets.

And if you’re looking for an unusual gift, a bottle of fine grappa is ideal. Of course, there are other grappa producers equal to Nardini. You might have a favourite of your own. If so, please share in the comments below, including details about the flavour profile.

The migrant situation continues to unfold, some say in ‘biblical proportions’.

The photo of Aylan Kurdi on the beach is still featured in news media around the world and pundits are still talking about it, pointing to the need to take in hundreds of thousands of people.

Never mind that the Kurdi family was safe and left Turkey — yes, Turkey — only because the father wanted dental implants!

My other posts on this subject include an explanation of the Calais crisis and the European situation from earlier in the summer through to last week.

The drama continues.

Denmark

On September 9, 2015, The Telegraph reported that a ferry service between Germany and Denmark was suspended temporarily as migrants refused to disembark.

They wanted to go on to Sweden where benefits start sooner and are more plentiful.

Motorway traffic and trains nearby were also disrupted.

The article shows a photo of young men looking as if they were being persecuted holding signs saying they want to go to Sweden. One reads ‘I dont wont Dinmrk’. Another says ‘Helpe us’.

They are so fortunate to have made it that far without hindrance. One has to wonder about their ‘refugee’ status when they refuse to register with Danish authorities and insist on going on to Sweden. Surely, if one is truly suffering, one will accept any country and welfare conditions in Western Europe.

As with so many other stand-offs of this nature, there was a compromise (emphases mine):

Wednesday’s standoff was eventually resolved as around 100 migrants agreed to remain in Denmark, while the remaining 240 or so were allowed to disembark and continue their journey onward.

Denmark’s police chief said on Thursday that his officers have been ordered not to stop hundreds of refugees and migrants who have entered the country via Germany.

Jens Henrik Hoejbjerg says it is purely a police decision, adding Danish officers “can’t detain foreigners who do not want to seek asylum (in Denmark).”

There was no immediate reaction from the Danish government.

“Where they have gone I don’t know. I think they were picked up by private cars or have taken taxis further away. We are no longer monitoring them,” police commissioner John Andersen told news agency Ritzau.

“We didn’t want to empty the train by force,” he added.

Three hundred migrants, including children, were walking along the motorway nearby:

“We are trying to talk to them and tell them that it is a really bad idea to walk on the motorway,” a police spokesman said.

Indeed, but the whole idea is to create chaos. Forget about the legitimate passengers, some of whom were probably travelling on business, the migrants make this all about themselves and their needs.

Hungary

Another Telegraph report from September 9 said that a group of migrants broke through a line of Hungarian police stationed at the border with Serbia.

The migrants spotted a gap in Hungary’s new €100 million border fence. Slipping through, they trespassed on private property — maize and sunflower fields — to reach a nearby motorway which police then had to close.

Other migrants took to walking along the railway line just across the border.

The article states:

With Hungary at breaking point, the UNHCR announced that it expects another 30,000 migrants to enter Hungary in the next 10 days.

The migrants refuse to go to camps set up to process their cases and provide them with shelter.

The following videos give a better idea of what the Hungarian authorities are attempting to manage. The first shows what is going on in a town 230 kilometres from Budapest:

The second shows what really happened with the man and the pregnant woman on the railway tracks elsewhere in Hungary. When this story broke several days ago, the narrative — carried by many news outlets — said that police pushed a pregnant woman onto a railway line and that her husband had to dive in to stop them.

This is not what happened. The police did not push the woman down, her notional husband did, with force. One wonders about her condition now as well as that of the child in her arms and the foetus in her womb:

The violence from the migrants and their disregard for the police is eye-opening. Are these men real refugees or criminals?

Greece

Thousands of migrants continue to arrive on the Greek islands of Kos and Lesbos.

The Telegraph reported that a British couple now working in the Netherlands went to Lesbos for a holiday, but their hearts went out to the refugees, so they spent their time on the beach handing out water and a welcome:

“We’ve been asked ‘which country are we in now?’ Others know that they have landed in Greece but think they are close to Athens. They have no idea where Lesbos is,” said Ms Postill, 51.

“I think that if I was in their situation, I would probably try to reach Europe too. There are camps for refugees in Jordan and places like that but there is no work, nothing to do.”

Mr Priddy said many of the refugees they encountered were educated people. “We’ve met robotic engineers, a lawyer who helped prosecute Saddam Hussein, a doctor who spent 10 years in the UK, people who can speak three European languages.”

One cannot help but wonder why educated, influential people cannot apply for refugee status through the proper channels. It doesn’t make sense.

There is another side to the migration chaos in Greece, less heart-warming than what the British couple were experiencing.

Elsewhere in Lesbos, thousands of migrants marched down a main thoroughfare demanding better care from Greek authorities:

Chanting as they marched through the streets, some carried cardboard signs that read: “Don’t exploit refugees”.

Holy moly. It’s a bit difficult for authorities to get tens of thousands of people processed within a few hours. Again, such boldness seems odd from people who are truly seeking asylum. Sounds more as if economic migrants and criminals are doing this.

The horrifying reality is that:

The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – and the strain is pushing everyone to their limits.

Not surprisingly, some of the residents on this resort island are unhappy:

In the video, one local man is seen shouting to the crowd, telling them to “go back to Turkey.”

In the end, authorities worked over a 24-hour period to process 15,000 migrants on Lesbos:

We worked very hard all night, without any sleep, and this is the result – we emptied the stadium in less than 24 hours,” Major-General Zacharoula Tsirigoti, the police officer in charge of the operation, told The Telegraph. “Everything is under control now. I didn’t expect to be able to do it in 24 hours.”

With Hungary threatening to build a bigger fence along its border with Serbia and to close the frontier, we expect the flow will increase, as people try to get into Hungary before the gates shut,” she said.

The report says the migrants cheered as they set sail on the ferries provided. No doubt the locals did, too. In the preceding days:

… up to 20,000 refugees, many of them Syrian, were sleeping rough in parks, streets and the port area of Lesbos’ main town, Mytilini.

They were unable to leave the island because there were not enough Greek officials to issue them with onward travel permits, stoking frustration that sometimes exploded into clashes with riot police.

An extra 65 police and coast guard officers were drafted in from Athens to register the refugees in a dusty, disused football stadium in Mytilini, in an all-night operation in which vast queues formed.

Specially laid-on ferries then transported around 6,000 refugees and migrants from Mytilini to Athens in just 24 hours, with more boats due to take another 4,500 refugees to the port of Piraeus near Athens on Wednesday.

The locals are terrified or angry. There are two short YouTube videos in English with Polish subtitles that I am having problems embedding, so will have to forego. One of them features a clearly upset lady who says that she and her neighbours cannot leave their homes. She does not feel as if she can take her child to school. In another, a man uses an old Anglo-Saxon word to get migrants to leave from his doorstep, telling them they are no longer in a war zone.

Italian-Austrian border

The following account from a Polish lady travelling between the border between Italy and Austria on September 6 is illuminating. It comes from a Biased BBC reader whose wife received the first person account from the woman, a close friend:

Half an hour ago on the border between Italy and Austria with my own eyes I saw a great many immigrants … With all solidarity with people in difficult circumstances I have to say that what I saw arouses horror … This huge mass of people – sorry, that’s right – but it’s an absolute wilderness … Vulgar, throwing bottles, loud shouts of “We want Germany” – and Germany is now a paradise? I saw an elderly Italian women surrounded in her car, pulled her by the hair out of the car and wanted the car drive away. The coach in which I was in the group tried to push over? [Faeces] thrown at us, banging on the door to be opened driver, spat on the glass … I ask for what purpose? How does this wilderness is to assimilate in Germany? I felt for a moment like a war … I really feel sorry for these people, but if they reached Poland – I do not think that they will receive from us any understanding … We have three hours to the border through which ultimately passed. The whole group of police cordon was transported back to Italy. Coach is damaged, faeces smeared, scratched, broken windows. And this is supposed to be an idea of the demographics? These big powerful hordes of savages? Among them was actually not women, no children – the vast majority of aggressive were young men … Just yesterday I read the news on all the websites subconsciously compassion, worried about their fate and today after what I saw just afraid and yet I am happy, they do not choose our country as their destination. We Poles are simply not ready to accept these people – neither culturally nor financially. I do not know if anyone is ready. EU walks pathology which has not had a chance to ever see, and sorry if anyone offended his entry … I think that drove up the car with humanitarian aid – mainly food and water and they just rolled their car they … With megaphones Austrians imparted a message that there is consensus that crossed over the border – they wanted to register them and let go on – but they did not understand these messages. I do not understand. And it was all the greatest horror … For those few thousand people nobody understood neither Italian nor the angielksu, or German, or Russian, or Spanish … What mattered was right fist … They fought for permission to move on and this agreement have – but did not realize that they have it! The coach of the French group hatches were open – everything was in the middle in a short time has been stolen, some things lying on the groundNever in my short life, I had no opportunity to watch such scenes and I feel that this is just the beginning. On a final note, it is worth helping, but not at any price.

More tomorrow.

My posts from the end of of last week have looked at the recent migration Europe has experienced in 2015: emotional manipulation, including the photo of Aylan Kurdi, and the story of the camps in Calais.

Where there are true refugee cases, European countries should continue to process them.

However, in other instances, it is hard to believe that every person taking a boat to Italy, Greece or Turkey is a legitimate refugee.

Whereas the political elite and well meaning middle and upper middle class support unlimited migration with no borders, the ordinary European is becoming either suspicious or angry about a sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of people from abroad, especially when the demeanour and behaviour of many can only be termed as aggressive. Economically, EU citizens are right to wonder how this will be paid for and whether they will have to pay more tax. Logistically, they want to know where and how the new arrivals will be housed, fed and clothed. Who will find them jobs and teach them the language of their host country?

France

Germany took in more migrants at the first weekend in September than they could accommodate.

The excess went to France on Wednesday, September 9: 200 left Munich for Champagne-sur-Seine in Seine-et-Marne and Cergy-Pontoise in the Val d’Oise. Both towns are relatively close to Paris.

Francois Hollande agreed last week to take in 24,000 migrants over the next two years. The aforementioned 200 from Germany are part of this number. This is in addition to the 9,000 France had already committed to accept.

France is currently attempting to accommodate 65,000 asylum seekers. The additional 33,000 will prove problematic to house whilst their cases are being reviewed.

In the case of the current 65,000, there are only 25,000 places in the country’s refugee centres. At the end of June, the government instituted a ‘migrant plan’ which freed up 11,000 more places in emergency social housing. However, simple sums tell the story: tens of thousands more places must somehow be created. Where and how remain to be seen.

The Côte d’Azur has been experiencing problems with migrants since the beginning of the year coming over from the neighbouring Italian border. Extra police have been on duty for months. Recently, this has been strengthened with four mobile patrols, two from the police and two from the CRS. The new commitment to take in more migrants does not change the current border patrol policy, the deputy prefect of Grasse, Philippe Castanet, said on September 7. No one without appropriate papers will be allowed to migrate from Italy to France, according to Schengen rules. Nice-Matin reported:

‘100 to 200 persons are arrested every day,’ he said. A majority are sent back to Italy.

The others — a third of the total — this weekend being the fifth [of the new patrols], according to the deputy prefect, can’t be because of the lack of tangible evidence of coming in from Italy or because they are minors travelling alone.

Another Nice-Matin article says that, despite the calls for individual French households to take in refugees and for relaxing laws concerning refugees, most Côte d’Azur residents, local councilmen and regional legislators are opposed to both.

Italy

On August 31, The Telegraph reported on the tragic murder of an elderly couple in Sicily, victims of a violent robbery in their home. Police believe the suspect to be an African asylum seeker from the Ivory Coast who had been living at the refugee camp in nearby Mineo.

Mamadou Kamara, an 18-year-old from the Ivory Coast, allegedly slit the throat of Vincenzo Solano, 68, and then attacked his Spanish-born wife, Mercedes Ibanez, 70.

Ms Ibanez fell to her death from a second-floor balcony, during a robbery that turned violent.

Mineo allows those being processed to come and go as they please. The result is that the camp is a place:

where prostitution, links with organised crime and the trade in illicit goods is said to be rife.

Kamara was arrested on his return to the camp. Mr Solano’s daughter later identified a pair of blood-soaked trousers as belonging to her father. Detectives think that other migrants at the facility could have also been involved.

The incident is one more which continues to harden Italian opinion against continued migration:

with some of the country’s 20 regions refusing to accommodate any more migrants and centre-Right parties accusing the centre-Left government of Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, of having lost control of the country’s borders …

“The murdered couple had returned from living in Germany to enjoy their retirement in Sicily,” a relative told La Stampa newspaper. “They shouldn’t have died like this, slaughtered like goats.”

Earlier, in July, The Telegraph reported on the violence that broke out in Treviso in the north and in Rome.

In 2014, Italy took in 170,000 migrants. In 2015, the country took in 84,000 more by the time these disturbances took place.

In Casale San Nicola, a group of Italian protestors, including a number from the far-right Casapound, injured 14 police officers and 19 migrants had to be taken by police escort to a former school which had been converted into a migrant reception centre:

Protesters also burned rubbish skips and bales of hay and tried to block a road.

Clutching Italian flags, they said they wanted their suburb to remain “Italian” and claimed they did not have adequate infrastructure to deal with the migrants.

The Guardian had a fuller story about Casale San Nicola, a pleasant community (emphases mine):

While some in Casale San Nicola believe Italy – and Europe – have a duty to assist the migrants, most interviewed by the Guardian were clearly disdainful of their new neighbours.

Sylvia Pilotti, a hairdresser who works just a few miles away from the new migrant centre, said: “They’re not really refugees. It’s not like they are coming from famine and war.

“When the bus arrived, the refugees were all very well dressed, with iPhones, and while the Italians there were screaming at them they were doing like this,” she said, holding up her middle finger. “Do you know what that means?”

Her elderly customer silently nodded in agreement.

Outside the hairdressers, Camilla, a 16-year-old student, took a drag on her cigarette and said she wants the migrants out.

She said: “They are right to protest. I live nearby.” When asked about the circumstances many of the new arrivals have faced – a dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean, and war and conflict at home – she said: “I have a different mentality. I think they shouldn’t come to Italy. The good people stay in their own countries and here they send the delinquents and the drunks, and they bother Italian girls, it’s not a nice thing.

Earlier the same day in Treviso, authorities were forced to relocate 101 migrants, the majority of whom were from Africa, to a nearby army barracks:

Residents in the town of Quinto di Treviso, outside Treviso, set mattresses, television sets and furniture on fire in protest at the resettlement, saying they did not want the migrants living nearby.

They had seized the objects after breaking into the buildings, protesting against what they said was “an invasion”.

The Telegraph reported that Luca Zaia, the governor of the region, Veneto, said:

“two out of every three” of the refugees were economic migrants and did not have the right to claim asylum in Italy, calling for the international community to set up processing centres in North Africa where genuine asylum seekers could be distinguished from economic migrants.

“In my region we have 517,000 immigrants, 42,000 of them without jobs. We have no more room for them – enough,” he said.

He makes an important point: set up processing centres elsewhere so that genuine refugees can be separated from migrants. Process the refugees’ casework then send them to Italy and elsewhere in Europe. The frustration is that it is unlikely the EU will allow this. This is further complicated by the constant calls from the EU elite for Europe to operate as a single entity, without nations. Martin Schulz, a socialist and president of the European Parliament — an unelected position — said in 2012:

My position is that I am a completely convinced European, in favour of European integration. We cannot continue to cling to the idea of the Nation State. We must develop a transnational level to be able to face the challenges of the 21st century.

That means that whatever the EU demands must be done. Forget Europe’s history and the needs of her people. This will end in tears.

However, let us take Schulz’s grand plan and examine it against what is happening now. Even if Europe were divided solely into regions — oh, the horror — there would still be migratory problems from one to the other. On September 2, Italy, Austria and Germany had to co-ordinate a border response to migration from the Balkans. The Telegraph reported:

Italy is ready to impose identification checks at Brennero on the border with Austria after receiving a request from Germany for help in easing the flow of migrants into Bavaria, the northern province of Bolzano said on Wednesday …

The region will also take in “between 300 and 400 refugees”, housing them temporarily in a number of gyms already equipped for such use, under the organisation of the civil protection agency, and at the cost of the state.

“Bavaria is witnessing record arrivals of refugees, mainly via the Balkan route, which is creating an unmanageable situation,” the province said, adding that efforts were underway “to find new structures and cope immediately with the exponential growth in the number of migrants”.

The situation is unmanageable, yet, the EU says that everything is fine. We can absorb more and more for years to come. But, where and how?

The point is we cannot even take care of the people we have, let alone welcome an ongoing, sizeable influx of migrants in an orderly, sensible manner.

Bulgarian-Macedonian border

Speaking of the Balkan route, on September 1, Breitbart reported that suspected Islamists had been arrested at the Bulgarian-Macedonian border. They were posing as refugees (emphases mine):

The men were stopped by a border guard, who they attempted to bribe with a “wad of dollars.” However, they were searched and Islamic State propaganda, specific Jihadist prayers and decapitation videos were found on their phones

In a move that suggests how seriously authorities are taking the case, the Bulgarian State Agency for National Security (DANS) has now taken control of the investigation under the supervision of the regional prosecutor’s office in Kyustendil.

The men chose to cross in a wooded area, local media have reported, and took a car from an accomplice who had crossed legally from Macedonia with the vehicle.

Bulgaria has recently completed a 15-foot high razor wire clad fence along 50 miles of its south-eastern border with Turkey to control the mass movement of migrants from the Middle East and Asia into Europe via the so-called Balkans route.

However, the Gyueshevo border checkpoint where the men crossed sits on Bulgaria’s western border with Macedonia. It is likely the men chose to enter there to avoid the new strict border controls on the other side of the country.

No surprise there.

More evidence that we cannot accept at face value everyone who says he is a refugee.

Switzerland

Even non-EU countries could be affected by the migratory flow.

On September 6, Jurg Noth, head of the Swiss border guard, warned about the increasing number of migrants along Switzerland’s borders with Germany and Austria:

In Buchs in the north-eastern canton of St. Gallen, border guards identified 709 illegal immigrants in August compared to 209 in July and 110 in June. Noth said that reinforcements were being brought in to Buchs and the Rhine valley but warned that more border guards in the east will mean cuts elsewhere, especially along the northern border. 

Switzerland currently has around 2000 guards manning its borders. The Swiss cabinet had recently approved 48 additional border guards for the eastern border but Noth estimates that between 200 to 300 might be needed.

EU in great difficulty

As we saw in the aforementioned news stories from France and Italy, Angela Merkel’s pledge to take in hundreds of thousands of migrants will, as The Telegraph put it, ‘test the EU project to destruction’. The following is important to note:

Faced with a human flood, Mrs Merkel has abandoned the Dublin Convention that requires asylum-seekers to be processed in their country of arrival. Berlin’s new policy will allow Syrian refugees to apply for asylum in Germany, rather than in their first port of call.

Juncker, Schulz and others in the EU hierarchy can’t help but love this one. Her move completely ignores the rule of law. As we have read, such recklessness is coming back to bite and is adversely affecting nations nearby. They are called upon to dig her out of a deep hole.

Furthermore:

The present uncontrolled influx is not how the system is designed to work – but the scale of the exodus from the Muslim world means that rules are being flouted as each country protects its own interest.

Meanwhile, the lack of border controls within Europe is allowing migrants to make for countries with generous rules on asylum and welfare, especially Germany and the UK.

More to come tomorrow as the story continues.

Food Republic — an eclectic site for people who enjoy dining — interviewed the British restaurant critic A A Gill in May 2015.

Gill is someone one either respects or loathes in equal measure.

I quite enjoy his reviews, especially his acerbic wit.

Absence of French classics

He told Food Republic something with which I can deeply empathise (emphases mine):

I sometimes just take stock and think, what is it that I’m missing? Because I eat everything, and I eat everywhere. And what is it that I haven’t had for a bit, that I’m missing. And the thing that I miss most now is classic French restaurant food. Bourgeois food, haute cuisine. And nobody’s making it in France, or very few people …

I really miss the French food that most of those of my generation who grew up loving food and being interested in food — that was where we started. And it’s very difficult to find … now.

Hear, hear.

Gill is around my age. When we were growing up, the big middle class family restaurant experience was eating classic French food. It didn’t happen often, at least in my family, and was reserved for once-in-a-lifetime occasions. Dad saved up and Mum chose the restaurant.

I don’t recall the ‘heavy sauces’ that so many complain about. I doubt if those people ever set foot in a French restaurant. That’s just another cliché spouted by those who know no better.

Gill is right to say that few restaurants in France feature elegant classics of Escoffier’s era.

French food has gone global. They even have food trucks now. Recently, they had national — wait for it — burger week! Whatever next?

World’s ‘best’ restaurants?

What compounds the problem, especially for French classics, are notional global best restaurant designations.

The most recent appeared on June 1, 2015: The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. The Telegraph reported:

The avant-garde Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca has won back the World’s Best Restaurant crown.

The restaurant in Girona is owned by three brothers – Joan, Josep and Jordi – and is famed for cutting-edge, playful dishes that still pay homage to classic Catalan cooking.

Hmm. I’ve eaten Catalan cooking in Barcelona. Classic Catalan cuisine is succulent roast kid, suckling pig and beautifully grilled prawns.

Have a look at the photograph accompanying The Telegraph article. It’s clearly some sort of molecular cuisine.

A gushing review in the paper from October 2014 proves it — and has accompanying photographs:

After more than a dozen courses, and almost as many glasses of wine, my tasting notes had become somewhat perfunctory. “Pig – delicious” was all I could manage for what was perhaps my favourite dish; “all the prawn” was the enigmatic description of another; while some had vanished from the record books altogether. With pork disguised as fish, ceviche hidden beneath the frozen face of tiger, and puddings that pulsate, it’s easy to get lost in the moment at a place like El Celler de Can Roca.

There’s more. After pre-prandials and amuse-bouches:

An “autumn vegetable stock” came next, cooked with the sort of precision you expect from the disciples of molecular gastronomy (“80 degrees for three hours”). It was crystal clear, with an unusual, almost gelatinous consistency, and bursting with 10 or more individually distinguishable flavours.

To follow was perhaps the most eye-catching dish – Leche de Tigre, a lobster ceviche topped with a disc of frozen lime branded with the image of a growling tiger. It, like many of the dishes, pushed the boundaries in terms of texture, but – thankfully – was less quirky when it came to flavour, with the sharpness of a classic ceviche.

The photo of Leche de Tigre — Tiger’s Milk — makes it look positively revolting. See for yourself. I would be unable to eat that. It is evident that some sort of chemical has to go in it in order to produce a semi-coagulated result.

And there are other similar restaurants on this world’s best list.

French food then takes a hit. The French media ask, ‘Why is our food so bad?’

But that’s not the question nor the conclusion to draw.

Classic French food is excellent. As A A Gill says, we see too little of it.

The problem is that most award-winning restaurants are those that favour molecular cuisine — or, if you prefer, molecular gastronomy.

All the rage

I spoke with someone a few weeks ago who makes a living by charting culinary trends for restaurants and cafés.

He told me, ‘That’s what people want.’ I countered that we are persuaded to think we want it. It isn’t our choice.

The media message is, ‘If you want to be hip and cool, you’ll seek molecular gastronomy.’

People pay hundreds of dollars/pounds/euros for a multi-course tasting menu. After that, I’d be in search of a McDonald’s, and I haven’t had one of those for, erm, 20 years.

For me — and countless others — restaurant food should offer a) a recognisable, goodly portion of protein, b) a satisfying yet creative sauce and c) easily identifiable vegetables.

Remember the interests behind the push for molecular cuisine: big business, always big business. There are companies which make the necessary chemicals for this type of dining experience. They can branch out from commercially processed food to top restaurants. The result is that consumers see chemicals as good, interesting and elegant.

A further result is that we will be able to buy them for use at home. We’ll also have accompanying cookbooks to match.

This means more money for the manufacturers of said chemicals and additives. Ker-ching!

Bucking the trend

French food critic Périco Légasse, who also writes for the newsweekly Marianne, had something to say about the 2014 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards.

After the list appeared, he said that the Danish winner Noma — also known for molecular cuisine — was responsible for 63 diners becoming ill from badly-done ‘chemical combinations’.

He also accused sponsors Nestlé and San Pellegrino of an ‘anti-French campaign’:

There is a political will to denigrate French cuisine.

Couldn’t agree more.

In another article, this one for Marianne, he reported on what Olivier Roellinger, chef of the three-Michelin Cancale, and equally esteemed Joël Robuchon of Fleury-Michon thought.

Roellinger said:

Molecular cuisine is a lure for people who don’t really know that much about food to begin with. It’s really [like] selling wind. And who’s financing this lobbying? A syndicate of industrial flavouring companies … It’s absolutely abominable.

Robuchon, even though he admires Spain’s award-winning Ferran Adria, went further:

Additives aren’t good. I’ve done everything to avoid using them at Fleury-Michon. In today’s molecular cuisine we find additives which aren’t even allowed in industrial food processing. I am 200% against molecular cuisine, for the good reason that I work with health and industrial services encouraging the elimination of acidifiers, colourings and additives, some of which have secondary effects.

In 2010, the Italian government banned the use of certain chemical additives and liquid nitrogen in molecular cuisine. The current status is unknown as the 2010 law was only in force for one year. It is unclear whether a new law has replaced it.

Cook and Food Network presenter Alton Brown, an American, had this to say in 2011 (emphases in the original):

Every generation develops tools. And the tools are a wonderful way to explore the possibilities of the world and of creation. I use some emulisifiers. Yes, there’s xantham gum in my kitchen. Why? Because I’m tired of shaking up a salad dressing. You know, it’s practical things. Is it really cool to be able to make corn flakes out of peanut butter? Sure, it’s a great trick. But it’s a novelty, by and large.

My worry about molecular gastronomy, especially with young cooks, is that they will try use it replace knowing how to cook. Food. Show me you can cook a chicken breast, properly. Show me you can cook a carrot, properly. Now do it a hundred times in row. Then we can play around with white powders.

It’s an interesting skill set, it’s an interesting bunch of tools. You can’t live on it. It’s not food.

He later clarified his position:

Just to set record straight: molecular gastronomy is not bad…but without sound, basic culinary technique, it is useless.

Natural or harmful?

To be fair, a number of additives with odd sounding names are perfectly natural — some come from seaweed — and have been used in mass-produced food for years.

Science Fare has a lengthy list with explanations of each popular molecular gastronomy ingredient.

India’s Mid-day has an interesting interview from May 2015 with chef and food stylist Michael Swamy who explains that just because something is natural does not automatically mean it is healthful to eat.

It all rather depends. Swamy discussed the freshwater basa fish, a new trendy yet inexpensive protein in India. He warned:

The fish is highly toxic and has a high amount of lead.

Swamy had this to say about molecular gastronomy (emphases mine):

One meal is equivalent to your one year’s quota of toxins as you only consume chemicals. The other day, someone told me that they had something called a bubble kulfi, which had dry ice. Everyone knows that dry ice is very poisonous but it is still added to cocktails and so on.

Swamy is correct. Laboratory assistants who work with liquid nitrogen — dry ice — in a clinical or scientific context wear gloves when handling the tanks. It can burn.

In 2012, Time magazine reported on a young Englishwoman who had to have her stomach removed after drinking a cocktail with dry ice. The then-teen suffered the horrendous consequences:

after drinking a Jagermeister cocktail made with liquid nitrogen at a bar in northern England.

The article goes on to explain the uses of liquid nitrogen in a medical setting — freezing warts, removing cancerous cells — as well as in a culinary one — ice-cream making.

The issue is knowing how to handle it for human consumption:

The main point is that liquid nitrogen must be fully evaporated from the meal or drink before serving, said Peter Barham of the University of Bristol’s School of Physics. It can safely be used in food or drink preparation, but it should not be ingested.

Barham and another scientist told the BBC:

Professor Barham adds that just as no-one would drink boiling water or oil, or pour it over themselves, no-one should ingest liquid nitrogen

Science writer and fellow at the Royal Society of Chemistry John Emsley says if more than a “trivial” amount of liquid nitrogen is swallowed, the result can be horrendous. “If you drank more than a few drops of liquid nitrogen, certainly a teaspoon, it would freeze, and become solid and brittle like glass. Imagine if that happened in the alimentary canal or the stomach.

The liquid also quickly picks up heat, boils and becomes a gas, which could cause damage such as perforations or cause a stomach to burst,” he says.

Conclusion

Imagine.

A large number of molecular gastronomy fans are probably people who enjoy working out at the gym and regular detoxes.

Little do they know what they are ingesting and what the long term effects of those substances are.

What struck me were the following points:

– Joel Robuchon saying that some of these ingredients aren’t even legal in industrial food production;

– Michael Swamy’s warning that one of these dinners can give you a year’s worth of toxins in just one evening;

– The possibly fatal dangers of liquid nitrogen in the hands of someone who does not understand what he is doing when preparing a new kind of cocktail.

Caveat emptor! Consumer be warned!

On April 17, 2015, Le Monde reported that 12 Christians were thrown overboard from a ship sailing from Africa to Libya.

Fifteen men were arrested when a rescue boat on which they were travelling landed in Sicily. The suspects are Muslims from Mali, Ivory Coast and Senegal. The victims were Christians from Niger and Ghana.

Survivors said that the Muslims did not want to be in the company of the Christians:

‘I saw with my own eyes nine Ghanaians and three men from Niger thrown into the water,’ recounted Yeboah. ‘I survived because, together with my companions, we banded together for an hour to resist our aggressors. Then a boat came to rescue us.’

Le Monde reported that authorities in Palermo are taking charge of the situation. As the incident took place in international waters, the Italian justice ministry will obtain any necessary authorisations to investigate the case.

With the weather improving, more boats and ships have been arriving in Italy and Sicily. Last year, more than 170,000 persons arrived.

In January 2015, The Atlantic explained a new trend on the seas — ghost ships:

… in lieu of the small, unsteady boats typical of such journeys, border forces have contended with large ghost ships full of people and abandoned by the smugglers.

“At first we wondered if it was a one-off, but it now seems to be a trend,” an official from Frontex, the European Union’s border control agency, told the Telegraph. “The smugglers acquire a decommissioned cargo ship, recruit a crew, pack it with migrants and then abandon them at sea, telling them to call the rescue services. It’s a very dangerous new development, especially in bad weather.”

This is all very sad for the migrants but also for European countries which must find some way to shelter them then, once they obtain official paperwork, find them jobs at a time when many young Europeans cannot find work.

This phenomenon puts a huge strain on national infrastructure and funds, Italy’s in particular. There is no solution at hand, and whilst death is tragic, there is also little future for mass waves of illegal immigrants in Europe. It’s a topic no one, especially in government, wants to discuss in any constructive detail.

At some point, whatever system is in place will be overloaded. Le Monde went to Sicily to investigate the charity work and accommodation of the boat people, mostly young men:

‘I see their pain and it makes me angry. They’re marked by what they’ve experienced, but we don’t have the means to help them. They really need psychologists, but that notion is foreign to them,’ Valentina laments. Father Don Piero is torn between confusion and indignation. ‘We opened our centre in 2006. We served 30 meals a day. Today, we serve up to 500. We have a project to double the size of the refectory. There are always benefactors to help. The Catanian generosity is great, but institutional help is lacking.’

‘There are around 200 who come every night, all year round,’ Sebastiano Cavalli explains, running a sentry box across the way. ‘Especially younger and younger Africans. I can understand their situation …’ Carmelo, 32, who works at the railway station sees more and more young Africans. ‘When we stop one or two, they run away, never to be seen again. There’s no control. They could be spreading disease.’

The article explains that juveniles, or those perceived to be so, are sent to youth centres. As these adolescents do not wish to be caught up in a government institution, they insist they are of majority age.

Francesco Rocco, director of the Italian Red Cross, says that without Libyan intervention, the migrations will continue. He is appealing for a stronger humanitarian effort from Africa.

In the meantime, a migrant cemetery exists and, for survivors, two former military camps have been allocated for accommodation — Mineo and Sigonella:

John, 29, a Nigerian, who was living in Libya before the fall of Khadafi, is losing patience after one year and seven months in the camp. ‘There’s nothing to do. We eat pasta and rice every day. What I’m waiting for now are my papers to get a house and a job here in Italy.’

What can one say? At least he has a roof over his head and eats daily. The Italian taxpayer is footing the bill. Going through the correct channels — legal immigration — avoids the camp situation. Choices, choices.

Meanwhile, French towns on the border with Italy are receiving an influx of migrants. On April 24, 2015, Nice-Matin reported that the police had questioned 800 migrants during the previous six days. Also, according to the policemen’s union, Alliance, during the first four months of 2015:

border police processed interviews with over 2,200 migrants, double the number from the previous year.

A source close to the Ministry of the Interior disputes these numbers and says only 540 have been questioned.

However, Christian Estrosi, UMP (Conservative) mayor of Nice and parliamentarian, agrees with the union:

‘Fifteen days ago I sent a request to Prime Minister Manuel Valls asking for more police reinforcements. The reality in our region is the record explosion of asylum demands, up 44% over the course of one year, a trebling of irregular immigration in 2014 and already an increase of 50% during the first trimester of 2015.’

Nice-Matin carried a follow-up article on April 26, explaining that this sudden influx is related to the recent arrivals in the south of Italy over the past few weeks:

Arrested at railway stations in Garavan and Menton, on the tollroad near Turbie, on the coastal highway or in the Roya Valley, these migrants with no documentation become part of a process for readmission into Italy. They are sent to the Transalpine authorities after a simple ‘verbal’ check.

Legally, the paper says, this is all the police can do. They are not allowed to take photos or fingerprints. The deputy director of the border police, Emmanuel Grout, assured Nice-Matin:

We are trying to do this with humanity. We know these people are fleeing war.

Nice-Matin readers were of divided opinion. Some think the police are exaggerating. Others, however, said:

‘Everybody’s arguing over numbers without giving a solution to the reality that’s hitting us in the face.’

‘Yeah, politicians only do politics. Reality is of no interest to them …’

It is unclear whether this phenomenon can be contained and how far it will spread. European leaders have discussed options, but no one wants to be seen as the bad guy discouraging further migration or encouraging African countries to help their own people.

There will be no quick — or satisfactory — resolution.

British parents are no doubt delighted to discover that chocolate Easter egg prices are at ‘rock bottom’ in 2015 thanks to supermarket discounts.

Meanwhile, Church of England Archbishops are unhappy because The Real Easter Egg, the one with a booklet telling the story of the Resurrection, has been crowded out by eggs representing Darth Vader, Doctor Who or Postman Pat.

The Real Easter Egg

Meaningful Chocolate produces The Real Easter Egg, a tasty teaching aid (my words) which comes with a small booklet explaining why eggs are a central symbol of the Resurrection.

The Warrington-based company has been making the eggs for four years. However, it is not always easy for them to negotiate shelf space. Their website provides a list of UK supermarkets selling the egg, made with quality Fairtrade chocolate.

David Marshall, who runs Meaningful Chocolate, told the Daily Mail:

We do wonder at times if there is an anti-Christian agenda from some of our supermarkets who just keep turning it down. It is as if some feel Christianity is politically incorrect or the Easter story, which mentions Jesus, might put people off.

‘One buyer asked us what Easter had got to do with the Church, while another simply said, “I don’t think this is a credible product” and asked us to leave.’

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, are urging Asda, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s to stock the egg.

Pagan, useful or both?

A growing number of Christians all over the world, but mainly in the United States, consider that, as the Easter egg and the Easter Bunny are not in the Bible and that they were part of pagan rituals, they have no place in the Resurrection story.

Yet, when we think back to the early centuries of Christianity, when missionaries risked life and limb travelling around Europe to spread the Gospel, what was the best way for them to tell people about Jesus? One cannot help but think of St Patrick, who taught about the Holy Trinity using a shamrock.

We’re talking about people who were illiterate and whose lives revolved around nature, upon which they were dependent for survival. The world then was not the way it is now: clean, sanitised, educated, plentiful. Life was precarious. Death was just around the corner. Food was not widely available 365 days a year. Hens stopped laying eggs. Animals went into hibernation. Most crops were unsustainable during frosty months. Is it any wonder, then, that people rejoiced at the advent of Spring?

Most of today’s well-meaning believers labelling everything ‘pagan’ are driving everywhere, buying food at a supermarket and maintaining their lawns devoid of other life. Look at any suburb.

Under such privileged circumstances, it is easy to denounce symbolism of the ancient world as being purely pagan with no crossover into Christianity. The same was true during the Reformation in discarding anything symbolic or exemplary, such as stained glass illustrations of biblical events or recalling the lives of the saints, many of whom died for the faith.

Fine, for those who wish to do that. However, there is another side to the story.

Hares and rabbits represented life

Explore God has a good article explaining what the hare and, later, the rabbit, represented for ancient peoples.

Life and fertility are intertwined in man’s atavistic need for survival and propagation. No animal represents these characteristics quite as well as the beautiful hare or cuddly rabbit.

Explore God tells us that a thousand years before Christ was born, the peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria viewed the hare as representative of life and rebirth. In the Greco-Roman world, gravestones had depictions of rabbits for the same reason.

The early Christians also used the hare and the rabbit to represent rebirth in the resurrected Christ.

The ancient world, northern European traditions and ‘Easter’

The word Easter is only used in Teutonic, Scandinavian and English languages.

Therefore, English-speakers would do well to stop saying that Easter is a pagan feast. We might have appropriated a pagan word for it (as we did with Sunday), but it is not universally known as that in every other language.

Infoplease says (emphases mine):

Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.

In French, for example, it is Pâques. The Passover which the Jews celebrate is called Pâques juif.

Explore God summarises the possible origins of the word ‘Easter’:

– The ancient German fertility goddess Eostra, associated with the hare;

– The ancient Norse word for Spring, which, translated into German is ostern.

It is difficult to know which came first: ostern or Eostra.

Infoplease says that the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the early Anglo-Saxon world that he witnessed, described the month of what we now call April as being named after Eostra:

“Eostremonat,” or Eostre’s month, leading to “Easter” becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it.

Some historians see no connection with the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar as her feasts occurred later in Spring. Explore God explains:

It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.

On the other hand, Christina Georgiou explains Eostre’s connection with the hare and the Ishtar story. Easter was not established until 325 AD at the first Council of Nicaea:

… co-opting an existing pagan holiday served the purpose of sowing the seeds of a new religion on existing faith.

In the east, the festival of Ishtar (correctly pronounced ‘Easter’) and the resurrection of  Tammuz also took place shortly after the equinox.

Still, they might have been on to something, even if it wasn’t exactly new. The holiday they picked had many of the same connotations attached.

The mystery of death and resurrection is remarkably similar in many places and times, and the time of year when it is recognized is practically universal across the northern hemisphere …

The  totem of Eostre is a hare—and according to the story, the goddess can turn into a hare at will. In one legend, the goddess comes upon an injured bird, who she saves by turning into a hare, it being the animal she is strongest as. Yet, having been a bird, this hare could still lay eggs, and in gratitude to the goddess, the bird laid colored eggs on her feast day ever since.

The hare heralded new life as did lilies — and the first eggs of the season.

Other related rituals

Georgiou goes on to explain that whether pagans of the ancient world worshipped Ishtar in the Cradle of Civilisation, Adonis/Aphrodite in Mediterranean lands or Eostre in the North, certain practices and rituals surrounded the vernal equinox.

One of these was fasting from meat for 40 days prior to the equinox. Some cultures cut down a tree in the shape of a ‘T’, commemorating Tammuz’s death and resurrection, which they believed occurred soon after the equinox. In the days approaching this time, pagans sang songs of mourning and held a vigil. On the appropriate morning, the priest or shaman comforted mourners by telling them that they, too, would rise like Tammuz from the grave to new life.

From this, it is easy to see why Church fathers established the feast of the Resurrection at a similar time. Fasting could easily translate into Jesus’s time in the desert to fast and pray. The tree held significance as Jesus died on the Cross.

Pagans and fundamentalist Protestants might be angry about this history for different reasons, but the springtime story helped to spread Christianity in earliest times throughout Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean countries and Europe. What’s not to like?

Eggs, hens and early civilisations

We’re used to going to the supermarket to buy eggs. It’s nothing unusual for us. Eggs are on sale all year round.

However, historically, this is a relatively recent development.

Hens cannot lay eggs without a generous supply of light. Today, this is done artificially indoors so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. However, in the old days, as daylight grew shorter, people used to gather eggs for winter storage. At some point during the winter when production had ground to a halt, they probably ran out or the eggs spoiled.

Once longer days rolled around in the Spring, hens guarded their newly-laid eggs by hiding them. Georgiou tells us:

When does laying season begin? You guessed it.

And, if you’ve ever kept free-range chickens, you know that this time of year they hide them everywhere. Yes, even in the grass. (No, I never kept chickens, but when I was in college, my landlord did, and these are things I can attest to personally.)

Hmm. Think of American Easter baskets. They have artificial grass and chocolate eggs, a throwback to a hen’s natural behaviour.

She explains that in pagan times, the hare’s winter behaviour — nocturnal — was associated with the moon. In springtime, hares resumed running around during the day. Eggs also began reappearing; pagans connected them with the sun, the ‘golden egg’:

The two together indicate a balance between the sun and moon, appropriate for a holiday that is centered around the vernal equinox, a time of equal day and night, and also to indicate the fertility of the season.

Therefore, eggs were a prominent food at pagan rituals taking place at this time. Infoplease says that the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans all used them.

Early Christian missionaries used the egg as a symbol for the Resurrection: out of the hard shell (the tomb), new life emerges.

As Christianity displaced paganism, various peoples attached this symbolism to the egg. Elaborate decorations also appeared.

The pagan fasting became a Christian tradition, recalling Christ’s own 40 days in the desert. Not only was meat restricted, eggs were, too. Easter represented Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the fast.

People gave each other eggs as gifts, a token of mutual rejoicing at new life through our Lord’s victory over death and the tomb.

Christians in the Middle East and Greece painted eggs bright red, recalling His blood shed for our sins. Armenians carefully emptied the contents of the egg then painted the shells with pictures of our Lord, Mary and the saints. Early Germans also hollowed out eggs which they hung on trees. They coloured whole eggs green to give to family and friends on Maundy Thursday.

Austrians buried eggs in plants with decorative foliage. When they boiled the eggs afterward, a pretty plant pattern emerged on the shell. Further east, the Poles and the Ukranians painted eggs silver and gold. They also developed an elaborate method of egg decoration called pysanky. This involved applying designs in wax on the eggshell before dying it. They reapplied wax then boiled the egg again in other colours of dye. The end product was a multi-coloured, patterned delight.

In Russia, Tsar Alexander III wanted an exquisite Easter present for his wife. In 1885, he commissioned Pierre Faberge to create the first of what we know as Faberge eggs.

The white week — hebdomada alba — and Easter parades

Traditionally, Easter has been the time when catechumens — those who have been instructed in the faith — were baptised.

Centuries ago, the newly baptised wore white robes during Easter week to symbolise their new life in Christ. That week was referred to in early Christianity as hebdomada alba: ‘white week’ in Latin.

Infoplease says that during the Middle Ages local churches arranged religious processions after Mass on Easter Day. The congregation processed in their towns or villages following the clergy and deacons who carried a processional cross and/or a Paschal candle, which would have been lit at the Easter vigil service. Unlike today, people dressed up for church and Easter would have represented the perfect occasion for wearing new, Sunday best attire. Hats and bonnets would have been important, too, as they were seen by everyone. These processions, originally religious and solemn, became more secular and joyful. They evolved into what we know as Easter Parades.

The German Easter Hare — the children’s judge

From what we have seen so far in the history of springtime and Easter symbolism, we know that a) it was an important time of year as it meant food production could recommence, b) ancient civilisations attached atavistic importance to the hare and the egg and c) Christianity was able to biblically use certain elements — fasting, the tree of sacrifice and the egg — to make Christ’s death and resurrection more understandable to pagan populations.

In the 16th century, possibly the 15th, Germans borrowed the aforementioned Eostre story about the transformation of the bird into a hare that could lay eggs and transformed it into a religious Oschter Haws or Osterhase (‘Easter Hare’).

Proflowers explains:

Children were told that a special hare would deliver gifts of colored eggs to the baskets made by good little boys and girls. Homemade baskets were crafted from bonnets and capes, and then hidden within the home. This tradition has evolved into modern-day Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets!

The first German settlers in the United States brought this tradition to Pennsylvania.

Parents told their children to be good or else the Easter Hare would not leave them a treat. I read elsewhere that the Easter Hare might determine that bad children needed a good whipping instead of a basket.

The Easter Hare — now the Easter Bunny — arrived in secret to leave these hidden eggs. From this we have the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.

We can see the similarity of the Easter Bunny with Father Christmas/Santa Claus operating on the reward-punishment basis. In Dutch traditions, Sinter Klaas (St Nick) goes around in the early hours of the morning on St Nicholas’s feast day — December 6 — to leave a treat or nothing. Sinter Klaas travels with his friend Black Pete, who metes out a whipping to bad boys and girls. These days, Black Pete is seen as politically incorrect. Whether he was actually from central Africa as today’s activists say is unclear. The best testimony on that came from one of my ex-colleagues, a Dutchman, who said that the warning his parents gave him before December 6 was, ‘Be good or the Spaniards will take you away!’ This refers to the long-standing rivalry centuries ago between the Netherlands and Spain. It is possible that Pete — Piet, in Dutch — represented Spaniards who would have had somewhat darker skin. Or Piet could have represented a similar-shaded person from St Nicholas’s native Turkey. Another theory posits that Piet was covered in soot from sliding down so many chimneys.

But I digress.

Suffice it to say that the Church’s principal feasts share this mandate for children to be good — or else. It’s an easy way of shaping their early behaviour into a civilised, godly one. What harm can that do? The child can digest ‘reward-punishment’ better than he can theology at that stage. That is not to say theology should not be paramount even then with prayers and Bible stories, but the ‘reward-punishment’ principle teaches simple, practical lessons quickly. A child’s mind only runs to the immediate future.

How Easter treats further developed

Germans developed the first edible Easter Hares out of pastry and sugar in the early 1800s.

Today, Easter is the second largest day of candy consumption during the year. The first, at least in the United States, is Hallowe’en. Here in the UK, it is probably Christmas.

We are awash in chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies in the run-up to Easter. In fact, one of our local shops brought out creme eggs on the 11th day of Christmas this year: January 5!

We don’t have Easter baskets here in the UK, and now, having done this research, I know why.

Twenty-five (or more) years ago, candy companies sold complimentary mugs, sometimes egg cups, with their Easter eggs. This went by the wayside 20 years ago, unfortunately, although I was able to procure a Snickers mug for the 1990 World Cup, a Kit Kat one the following year and an M&Ms one, my last mug purchase. I still have all three. They are fun and practical.

Easter cards

Easter cards became popular in Victorian England. A 19th century stationer had a card with a hare on it and added a seasonal greeting. From there the rest is history.

Today, at least in the United States, Easter is the fourth-most popular greeting card holiday after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Last but not least — the pretzel

Before leaving the food aspect of Easter, it is worth pointing out that the pretzel is an Easter treat.

Apparently, the pretzel is the world’s oldest snack food. In 610 AD, an Italian monk wondered what to do with leftover bread dough. He decided to make small twists of dough, the shape of which was meant to resemble children’s arms folded in prayer.

Conclusion — and the Passover connection

In closing, what is important about Easter is that Christ Crucified – Christ Risen is the most important concept we can share with young people. An Easter basket helps to convey to a little one that shared joy of everlasting life through our Lord’s death and resurrection.

And we might also recall that one symbol — the egg — came to the Jewish Christians from the original Passover seder. Therefore, we acknowledge our spiritual history with the Old Testament as well as Jesus’s mandate for us in the Last Supper:

the hard-boiled egg is one of the seven symbols set out on the Seder plate. Easter and Passover, after all, are strongly connected to each other. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples just before the crucifixion. After the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to celebrate a yearly Passover in the way Jesus had instructed them to, remembering his death and, more importantly, what his death and resurrection meant for them.

Whatever way you choose to celebrate Easter with your family, I wish you a very happy one, indeed.

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