Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Jetlag of Continental Proportions

I have, at long last, returned. Hope all of you are well! I enjoyed my ramble through Germany, exploring the native land of my mother. Exploring medieval castles, gothic and baroque churches, and the birthplace of Luther, Goethe, Marx and the Bismarck was certainly an eye-opener. It also has taken me a few days since my return to re-adjust my historic wavelength to East Asia, particularly since I am still finishing up Barbara Tuchman's incredibly engaging A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, which provides a spellbinding portrait of Europe, particularly France, in the midst of the Black Death and the Hundred Years' War. It was also, despite its trappings of medieval religiosity, a time of rather baldly risque humor. Allow me this excerpt Tuchman provides from Jean de Conde:
His style is illustrated by a story about a game of truth-telling played at court before a tournament. A knight, asked by the Queen if he has fathered any children, is forced to admit he has not, and indeed he "did not have the look of a man who could please his mistress when he held her naked in his arms. For his beard was... little more than the kind of fuzz that ladies have in certain places." The Queen tells him she does not doubt his word, "for it is easy to judge from the state of the hay whether the pitchfork is any good." In his turn, the knight asks, "Lady, answer me without deceit. Is there hair between your legs?" When she replies, "None at all," he comments, "Indeed I do believe you, for grass does not grow on a well-beaten path."
The comparable cultural achievements of China in the 14th century, at the birth of the Ming, were really quite more refined. Speaking of which, I was impressed, in the Zwinger Museum in Dresden, to find in their porcelain museum the most attractive display of blue-and-whites from China that I've ever seen. Most were from the Kangxi and Yongzheng period, and were very fine indeed. I can't say I particularly liked the Meissenware, and the monstrous porcelain ensembles and statuaries created in the name of art. The output of Rosenthal today is far more impressive!

Regular blogging service shall resume shortly.

Ponder, all of you familiar with both German and Cantonese cuisine, the similarities between 'siu yok' (the fatty pork dish with deep fried skin) and Bavarian schweinshaxe (basically the same thing). Why do Cantonese still eat the dish with mustard? Could Teutonic cuisine have added, in its own miniscule way, to the advancement of gastronomy in the Middle Kingdom?

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