Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The first Thanksgiving.
We do not know the exact date of the celebration we now call the First Thanksgiving, but it was probably in late September or early October, soon after their crop of corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas had been harvested. It was also a time during which Plymouth Harbor played host to a tremendous number of migrating birds, particularly ducks and geese, and Bradford ordered four men to go out "fowling." It took only a few hours for Plymouth's hunters to kill enough ducks and geese to feed the settlement for a week. Now that they had "gathered the fruit of our labors," Bradford declared it time to "rejoice together . . . after a more special manner."Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower 117-18 (Penguin, 2006).
The term Thanksgiving, first applied in the nineteenth century, was not used by the Pilgrims themselves. For the Pilgrims a thanksgiving was a time of spiritual devotion. Since just about everything the Pilgrims did had religious overtones, there was certainly much about the gathering in the fall of 1621 that would have made it a proper Puritan thanksgiving. But as Winslow's description makes clear, there was also much about the gathering that was similar to a traditional English harvest festival -- a secular celebration that dated back to the Middle Ages in which villagers ate, drank, and played games.
Countless Victorian-era engravings not withstanding, the Pilgrims did not spend the day sitting around a long table draped with a white linen cloth, clasping each other's hands in prayer as a few curious Indians looked on. Instead of an English affair, the First Thanksgiving soon became an overwhelmingly Native celebration when Massasoit and a hundred Pokanokets (more than twice the entire English population of Plymouth) arrived at the settlement with five freshly killed deer. Even if all the Pilgrims' furniture was brought out into the sunshine, most of the celebrants stood, squatted, or sat on the ground as they clustered around outdoor fires, where the deer and birds turned on wooden spits and where pottages -- stews into which varieties of meats and vegetables were thrown -- simmered invitingly.
In addition to ducks and deer, there was, according to Bradford, a "good store of wild turkeys" in the fall of 1621. Turkeys were by no means a novelty to the Pilgrims. When the conquistadors arrived in Mexico in the sixteenth century, they discovered that the Indians of Central America possessed domesticated turkeys as well as gold. The birds were imported to Spain as early as the 1520s, and by the 1540s they had reached England. By 1575, the domesticated Central American turkey had become a fixture at English Christmases. The wild turkeys of New England were bigger and much faster than the birds the Pilgrims had known in Europe and were often pursued in winter when they could be tracked in the snow.
The Pilgrims may have also added fish to their meal of birds and deer. In fall, striped bass, bluefish, and cod were abundant. Perhaps more important to the Pilgrims was that with a recently harvested barley crop, it was now possible to brew beer. Alas, the Pilgrims were without pumpkin pies or cranberry sauce. There were also no forks, which did not appear at Plymouth until the last decades of the seventeenth century. The Pilgrims ate with their fingers and their knives.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Everyone wants to run red lights, but bikers do it better.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
When Hitler got all medieval on France.
The collapse of France seemed to mean not only the collapse of the bourgeoisie, it also seemed to signify the end of the entire era of bourgeois capitalism -- of liberalism, of parliamentarism, of constitutionalism, of capitalism, of the preponderance of Western Europe, of the Age of Reason. In June 1940 it seemed that the German triumph in the West meant a return, politically speaking, to the days of the Holy German-Roman Empire, a Europe dominated by Germans, North Italians, and Spaniards, with England excluded from Europe, France divided or reduced to her shape of the late Middle Ages, and the Netherlands, Artois, Flanders, and perhaps even a reconstituted Burgundy incorporated into the Reich. And there was more to this than political geography. In 1940 certain aspects of the Middle Ages had an appeal to millions of people, and not only to the triumphant Germans. Du Moulin de Laberthète, a sensitive observer of the early Vichy period, recorded in his memoirs "this kind of return to the Middle Ages, this 'instinctive medievalization,' something that Berdyaev has not foreseen." A Europe pullulating with Landsknechten, with mercenary soldiery in the service of an imperial ideology, this German-Spanish Europe with Jews restricted, Freemasonry disappearing, capitalism replaced by a new social order, corporations and guilds and the tribe exalted anew -- it was reminiscent of a Europe around 1500, before the Modern Age began.John Lukacs, The Last European War: September 1939 - December 1941 512-13 (Yale University Press, 2001).
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Listening to Obama's acceptance speech on November 4, on a transistor radio.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
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