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Author Archives: robinengelman

What the F–K is This?

Freshly shucked Chesapeake Bay oysters.

Freshly shucked Chesapeake Bay oysters.

Hooper’s Island is located halfway down the Chesapeake Bay just off the eastern shore of Maryland.  In1668, a major portion of the island, actually three virtually contiguous islands, was surveyed and given to Henry Hooper, the progenitor of my wife’s family on her mother’s side. When her mother and father retired, they built a home on the shore about 10 miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the property touching the Wye River, a Bay tributary.  During frequent visits to their home, I enjoyed soft and hard shelled crabs, fish and oysters all fresh from the bay.

When my wife and I were dating, she worked one summer in one of her uncle’s restaurants, a Hooper’s of course.*  We visited her grandfather’s oyster stall in Baltimore’s North Market and spent many moments together enjoying freshly shucked oysters. (See photo above.)  Later, world travels introduced me to perhaps 20 or more varieties of oysters. I mention all of this to establish my bona fides as an oyster aficionado.

The Chesapeake Bay. A natural confluence of salt and fresh water producing the world’s most succulent oysters. This once lush and abundant land is movingly described in the opening chapters of James A. Michener’s novel Chesapeake. Any food loving conservationist would be well rewarded by reading Michener’s poignant description of the bay and its abundant aquatic wild life just before Henry Hooper arrived –  hard and soft shelled crabs, ducks, geese, turtles, fish and of course, oysters. A gastronomic heritage now mostly relegated to memory.

Oysters from the east and west coasts of Canada have become popular appetizers in some Toronto restaurants. In a restaurant one Canadian grown oyster on the half shell can range in price from $3.00 to $5.00. With another couple, my wife and I have been gradually taste testing restaurant oysters hoping to find acceptable sizes and qualities. The results have been so so. At this time, Oyster Boy on west Queen in Toronto is the winner. He supplies a shucker and baskets of oysters for my daughter’s yearly office party.

And there’s the rub. If I order a steak rare and it arrives well done, I can send it back. It’s the kitchen’s fault and my only penalty is waiting for another steak. But what about oysters? If I complain about size, I may be on a slippery slope with an overbearing maître d’ who will lecture me about the vagaries of oysters, and their sizes which cannot be predicted. In other words, you sniveling uncouth amateur, it’s nature’s way, not the fault of this kitchen.

I have a reputation in my family for being too critical, argumentative, even hostile when I feel a restaurant has abused or ignored common standards of quality, preparation or service. I had a good teacher – a former colleague in Nexus.  Bob Becker said to a waitress in the boon docks, “Take this pat of butter back, it’s rancid”. If he ordered the perfect wine for his meal and was later told it was out  of stock, I’d cringe and want to be somewhere else, fast. On the other hand, Bob could be a blissanthropic gourmet. We were about to enter the Great Smokey Mountain National Park when he spied a log framed roadside restaurant. We looked at the menu and he said with real anticipation, “Ah, a ham steak. This is gonna be good”. And so good it was, I heard nary a word from him till he let out another “Ahh”.

So, this is what I’m gonna say to my maître d’. “How was it possible your shucker didn’t toss these aside? Who put them on a tray and who allowed them to leave the kitchen?  Pope Francis wouldn’t call any of these drops of snot a foetus, much less an oyster. I want these deducted from my tab. I’m not paying 3 to 5 bucks a piece for these insults. So, you sniveling bloviated bombastic bag of bullshit, What the F–k Is This”?

‘Tis up to us folks. If we don’t complain, the capitalist Bottom Line will not feed us. Join hands for a moment. Take another look at the picture above, bow your heads and dream along with me.

* In June of 1960, Dunbar High School students staged a sit in at this restaurant, located at 33rd and Charles Streets in Baltimore, thus provoking one of the very first Civil Rights cases to go to court. The charges were dismissed.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2015 in Articles, Commentaries & Critiques, History

 

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Concerts in Toronto – No. 1, October 16, 2015.

Art of Time opened with two concerts – October 16th repeated on 17th, masterfully played and for the most part refreshingly new, at least to my ears and eyes and all based on the  concert theme,TZIGANE.

Tzigane began with performances I’ll not soon, if ever forget. Guest violinist Yehonatan Berick and Burashko opened with three Brahms Hungarian Dances, numbers 1, 4 and 5. From the first note Berick took off. I felt as though he would crash and burn somewhere. But no, he had it all together, including padded shoes which allowed him to stamp his feet in time when the heat got hotter. Anyone who didn’t appreciate that touch must have the emotional range of a dead jelly fish. Yehonatan Berick is a Naumburg Prize winner and teaches at the University of  Ottawa and the Glenn Gould School whilst maintaining an international solo and chamber music career.  His performance with Burashko of Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Sarasate put a genuine stamp of authenticity on the evening’s Gypsy theme.

I can think of violinists with the technique to play these works, but only one who played them with Berick’s innate understanding and willingness to take chances, that is, to bring the listener with him, exploring the music as if for the first time. Michael Rabin (1936-72) was the only violinist who compares and I urge readers to find the treacly titled CD Strings by Starlight, with Felix Slatkin conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. The CD is superp in every respect and contains Zigeunerweisen as well as other one-movement masterpieces for orchestra and solo violin with orchestra. [ EMI Studio,CDM 7 63660 2 ]* If you can find this collection, grab it. Then you will know. Yehonatan Berick now abides side by side with Rabin in my exclusive music vault.

Then came something different. An exciting display of Spanish dancing by Esmerelda Enrique and Ilse Gudiño of the Esmerelda Enrique Spanish Dance Company. They performed De Los Buenos Mountainiales, a set of Fandangos de Huelva accompanied by two guitarists and a percussionist. The arrogant poses and gestures and aggressive foot tapping of Spanish dancing remind me somewhat of the opening poses, upright presentation and sheer physicality of Highland dancing. Featured too was the poignant and powerful singing of Fernando Gallego who was born in Cadiz and is known as “El Reale”. With the greatest respect, whenever I hear this singing, I feel a need to be hammered.

After intermission Andrew and Berick Performed Tzigane, Rhapsodie de Concert by Maurice Ravel. I’ve rarely heard it played more expressively.

Next was Van Django, a quartet from Vancouver, B.C. whose speciality is music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt and its genre. Reinhart (1910-53) was a famous Jazz guitarist, composer and recording artist during the first half of the Twentieth Century. I have a modest, but comprehensive collection of Reinhardt’s recordings and can testify to the honesty of Van Django’s arrangements within which they’ve left room for their imaginative improvisations. Van Django is Cameron Wilson, Violin; Budge Schachte and Finn Manniche, Guitar; and Brent Gubbels, Double Bass.

Van Django are composers as well as arrangers and performers of sensitivity. Beside the music of Rheinhardt, they played other complimentary works from the era. This music genre deserves to be heard. As with so much of our music heritage, it has been shunted aside by the Pop Music behemoth, but deserves to be remembered. Van Django is one ensemble keeping this creative tradition alive with skill and respect.

The Brahms Quartet No. 1 for Piano and Strings, Op. 25, iv. Rondo alla Zingarese (Gypsy style) Presto, concluded the evening of  Tzigane explorations. Berick and Burashko were supported by the fervent cello playing of Rachel Mercer** and violist Carolyn Blackwell.  I am familiar with the Brahms Hungarian Dances in their orchestral versions, but had never heard the piano trios. I was therefore delightfully surprised by the Romani verve Brahms had captured in his chamber work.  A spectacular concert.

Andrew Burashko, Art of Time’s indefatigable artistic director, continues to invigorate Toronto’s traditionally nonchalant audiences with thoughtful programmes imbued with style and excitement. Whatever the music, whoever the players, one always recieves highest quality.

*Originally released as an LP titled In Memorium this CD also contains a  rendition of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings that rivals in every way Leopold Stokowski’s brilliant 1957 recording on the Capital LPs, The Orchestra

** Rachel Mercer is cellist with the Ensemble Made in Canada String Quartet. They have recorded on compact disc the music of Canadian composer John Burge.   If you do not know about them, look them up on Google. Besides their fetching publicity photos, you may be surprised by their accomplishments to date.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Commentaries & Critiques, Composers

 

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Television Greets John Boehner and Pope Francis.

As I sat comfortably in front of my television set waiting for the Pope to appear, I heard in the voices of the network announcer’s, particularly those charged with describing the scene outside the Capital building, unusually high levels of tension. As these poor wretches attempted to fill time between telling us when the Fiat would arrive on The Hill and the crowd size awaiting it, their voices would attain Mel Brooksian levels of anxiety, at times reaching level 9 or 10. Occasionally a frozen moment would strike when they realized there could be and probably would be, an eleventh.

As blunders and bloopers cascaded unwittingly into their microphones, I found a note pad and began writing down some of their more memorable pronouncements.

CNN  reporter describing the crowd waiting for the Pope: “They are composed of all colours, Black, blue, white”.  . ( befuddled pause.)

FOX news reporter announcing Congressman Paul Gosar’s boycott of Pope Francis’ visit to the Hill:“Who would boycott the Pope, for God’s sake?”

CNN announcer: “Camera men are walking on their legs trying to keep up”.

CNN news flash: “No aisle seats were assigned to members of Congress who cannot control themselves. Congressmen known to be troublemakers were given seats in the middle of the house as far away from the Pope as possible”.

The House Sergeant at Arms, ” Mr. Speaker, the Pope of the Holy Sea.”This in a voice that could bind a buzz saw  and awaken the dead of Cannae.

Just as the Pope was about to speak, John Kerry peeked at his watch.

When the Pope says the words,”Land of the Free, Home of the Brave”, John Boehner, already crying, begins to weep.

(My theory on Boehner’s resignation, sitiing behind the Pope, he realized he could no longer be a Catholic and a Congressman.)

Both speeches by the Pope were spot on. I loved the clarity of his English language, its nuanced diction and pace. It is to be hoped that some, if not all of the wisdom he professed, will coalesce and make the world a better place.

 

 

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Late Night Travels with Jesus in West Virginia.

During the mid twentieth century, very few automobiles traversed western Maryland at night.  People ate dinner at home and stayed home. The narrow, shoulderless roads west of Cumberland had been constructed atop 18th and 19th century cow and wagon trails. With no overhead illumination, no moon, no stars, not even the pale glow from a distant city, one was wise to drive carefully.

Our cocoon in this blackness, was a1950’s vintage V8 Buick Woodie station wagon. Its driver and my caving partner and I were headed towards Shephardstown, West Virginia to spend the night with a fellow spielunker who was to introduce us to some of the local area caves. As if wearing an underwater mask, our view of the Buick’s cockpit was an oval that showed only some dashboard lights and through the windshield, a mesmerizing vision of our two headlights, glaring orbs that jiggled  threateningly, but never seemed to advance; a scene that kept our eyes wide open, always straining to see beyond.

When conversation lagged and only automobile sounds filled our black void, we’d turn on the radio and dial up station WWVA, Wheeling, West Virginia. A font of country music, gospel and evangelical preaching.

During any week day evening, one could rely on hearing men preach the virtues of Jesus Christ. These men, each in their unique way, had only a few minutes to grasp their audience and reaffirm Christ the Saviour’s ability to redeem a life born of sin, wash those sins away, heal a life of uncertainty and fear, and save souls for eternity. Life Everlasting at the right hand of God the Father.

They were preaching to the converted. Their Gospel and evangelical audiences did not need to be convinced of Christ’s mercy as much as having it reaffirmed, regularly. Then as now, West Virginia was one of the poorest states in the U S. Many of its people endured lives of hard work and poverty. Jesus Christ was, if you will, their emolument.

Almost every one of these religious shows featured music. Hammond organs and pianos were popular solo instruments or accompaniments for singers, small choirs, a soprano, tenor or bass. The music was well played by the bye.

Firmly rooted upon a scriptural foundation, the sermon was the keystone of the preacher’s quarter hour.  And it was often entertaining. He might begin with a simple gospel text and within a few sentences be somewhere in outer space, far, far gone. Though the credulity of an unconverted listener might begin to unravel, the preacher’s voice compelled attention. Sure enough, believer and sceptic alike would arrive back in Wheeling, emboldened and somehow understanding what the point of the sermon had been.

There were moments devoted to speaking in tongues, ala today’s Robert Tilton. This form of verbal expression is cited in the Bible and I believe, used on these broadcasts to verify the preachers religious credentials. Then, once or twice an hour a Praise God Almighty-Cast Out the Devil-Slap the Pulpit and Praise Jesus Sermon would erupt from the Buick’s speakers to remind us what Fire and Brimstone meant. These rants were often uninteresting unless we were lucky enough to hear one recorded before a black congregation. Then we’d have to watch our speed. A polyphony of shouting, stomping, clapping, singing, yelling, cries, responses, tambourines, drums and guitars. Oh my.

And, last folks, send your blessings in to keep this ministry on the air. A vial of coloured liquid blessed by the Reverend, Pastor, Minister or Brother himself might be sent to you along with a copy of his latest thoughts on “How Jesus Saves Souls”. They could charm a cold water bi-valve into opening its shell to present its life’s flesh as an offering.

At the time all this was a hoot. Riveting, but still a hoot. Years later I saw Tammy Faye Bakker (1942-2007), her mascara and her eyelashes, Benny Hinn’s hairdo and Jimmy Swaggarts tears. But there was no mystery in those folk. They were on TV and their religious messages were lost amongst tacky furniture, tacky schticks and bad acting. They couldn’t hold a votive candle to my line up.

The West Virginia radio clan had provided me with hours of entertainment, wonder, befuddlement, humour and amazement, some of them unforgettable. I pictured most of them in a spartan cinder block radio studio eeking out a living in the Pan Handle. Tacky never entered my mind. “Goodness Gracious” as my Grandmother used to say, these guys were good.  I’d never join their flock, but I admired their oratorical skills. I could feel the comfort they beamed out over WWVA through the night.

I’ve not tried hooking up with WWVA since the late 1950’s but in preparation for this article I visited their web site. They have a Babe of the Day photo and an archive of past Babes. One can click on the Newser, Read Less Learn More and Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity each have 3 hour consecutive segments from 9:00 am till 6:00 pm. When I typed in Religion, I was sent to iHeart Radio which appeared to be recorded Christian music. To listen, one has to sign in with name, e-mail and password. I wondered where old evangelists go. To Heaven?

A friend sent me  a video clip of John Oliver’s recent excoriation of Tele-Evangelists who promise  cures for cancer and lupis if their viewers Planted Seeds, a euphemism for sending them money. After watching, I kinda felt like apologizing to John for the hold my old evangelists maintain on me, but I didn’t. I have no reason to apologize.

Instead, I called John Oliver’s Our Lady of Perpetual Redemption hotline and heard John’s latest request for a peace offering. Toll free: 1-800-844-7475.

How is everyone?

Robin

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2015 in Unassigned

 

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Golf and the Papal We.

Tiger Woods was expected to win every tournament he entered and looking back on his career, it seems he did. Then his wife attacked him with a nine iron and he sought refuge in his SUV. We may never know exactly what happened that night. To date, El Tigre has never been the same. Two years ago he won five tournaments, a career for most professional golfers, but Tiger feeds on the four majors, those tournaments so coveted by golfing super staars like Jack Nicklaus.

He’s still got game, somewhere. In last week’s tournament he played three and two thirds rounds with his old brilliance. He then shanked a chip shot to the opposite side of the green, flubbed the return and then putted thirty yards past the cup, putted twice more for an easy seven and blew himself out of contention.

Still, he changed the game. Soon after losing his baby fat and turning pro, he was the hallmark of buff. No golfer had ever donned a glove who looked anything like Tiger. Word got around about his training schedule and an entire generation of young golfers followed his lead. Now there are a dozen twenty somethings that can hit a ball hitherto unimaginable distances whilst curving it high or low or this-a-way or that-a-way.

These freshmen have  been around for a few years – Bubba Watson comes to mind, but 2015 is a “What Has God Wrought” kinda year. The Professional Golfers Association now has a plethora of young stars who in a single season rejuvenated the game by regularly putting blankets over Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker and alas,Tiger.

With the older generation flailing about, the PGA and the media jumped all over Jordan Spieth, touting him as the next Tiger, only better. He possesses many sterling features. He is very nice looking, short hair and no five day beard. He speaks clearly and employs lots of people. Besides the obligatory caddie, his payroll sports a professional support team consisting of a trainer, physiotherapist, sport psychologist, golf swing guru, accountant, public relation specialist, dietician, agent, a lawyer and manager. He doesn’t have a wife and his Mom and Dad appear to be nice folks.

The media and the PGA got excited when Spieth won his first major at the 2015 Masters Tournament, becoming the second youngest to win the Masters, behind Woods. He won the U.S. Open, the youngest since Bobby Jones in 1923. The Open (British Open) was next and if he won that, he’d be a Grand Slam winner, depending on your criteria, something only Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Jack Nickus and Tiger Woods had accomplished.

He lost the Open and the PGA, but he was already a household name with as many endorsements as his Nike shirt could possibly hold. The media began to concentrate on his sportsmanship and humility. Humility was the winner. The reason? Everytime he was interviewed, he used the Papal or omniscient we. “We won, we worked hard, we had a plan, we had a strategy, we’re happy the way we played”. Television people interpreted this as humility. I don’t think I heard him once say “I”.

Golf has changed indeed. As Spieth walked off one of the final teeing grounds, he was followed by a group of about 20 people, portable cameras, the usual score keepers and sign carriers, a couple of rules officials and a dozen or so hangers on. What the hell is going on, I thought. Anyway,  I wonder who suggested to Jordan Spieth that he use the omniscient we. I don’t expect  him to know anything about the Papal we, but I do thinnk someone should tell him how this sounds on national television.

Golf is and has always been an individual game and should remain an individual game. Jordan Spieth looks and speaks as if he’s on a corporate outing. Perhaps he is. Perhaps they all are.

 

 

 

 

 
 

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Aspects of Terror 3. 1945 to 2015.

Laws and customs are useless without fear.
Niccolo Machiavelli, Il Principe, 1532.

In 1987 President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. Though history gave Ronnie credit for the wall’s fall, it had been obvious for years that Communism was a lame duck, an empty threat. When Gorbachev did as he was told, we took to calling him “Gorby”.  Anyway, after more than four decades of bloviating politicians, nuclear threats, military posturing and armed engagements, everybody needed a break. The US had suffered major shocks of its own after World War II and was in need of some psychic R and R.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941) had unified the United States. But then came the military stand-off in Korea (1953) and the assassinations of President John Kennedy (1963) and five years later, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Richard, “Tricky Dick”, Nixon’s criminal Presidency and the defeat of U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1975, topped off consecutive seasons of discontent. These successive traumas gradually undermined America’s self esteem and raised doubts about a future world order. All the while, allies of the U.S. continued to expect the US to confront and pay for any global conflict, arising anywhere, at any time. Talk about Schaden Freude!

–  All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.          ….Thomas Paine

At the time of  Reagan’s Berlin speech, religion had ceased to be a significant moral force in many western cultures. But, still gripping the heartland of America was a deep Christian belief in the wrath of God, the fear of death and its aftermath.

Then came 9/11, 11 September, 2001, when hijackings of four US commercial airplanes by Jihadists galvanized the US, bringing terror back to the heartland and providing political opportunists a ready made bandwagon. Before a joint session of Congress in January, 2002, George W. Bush used 9/11 to unveil  what became his presidency’s slogan, “Axis of Evil”, a not very subtle allusion to our II World War enemies and Biblical admonishments.  “Axis of Evil” and “Weapons of Mass Destruction” paved the way for a March, 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

– The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary          …H. L. Mencken

Tragically the War with Iraq, as it came to be known, was unnecessary.  Provoked by Dick Cheney, and justified by Gen. Colin Powell who, in February 2003, presented the United Nations with seemingly unimpeachable proof of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, the US invaded Iraq, dragging its allies behind it. But Colin Powell had been set up.  When Dick Cheney’s proof later proved to be fabricated, world wide condemnation of the US followed.

US tactics have been useless against individual acts of terror and so called Mid-East Jihadists. Those tactics, for there is no evidence of an intelligent strategy, have only exacerbated Mid-East problems. The institutional chaos among today’s Muslims is comparable to the Reformation in northern Europe when Catholicism splintered into multiple Protestant sects. Then as now, the conflicts have more to do with power than religious doctrine. Finally exhausted from years of carnage, Europe began to sort things out, sort of. The Mid-East must do the same.

It’ll take time, probably a long time, but that’s okay. Let’s leave the ball in their court and while they’re figuring out which strain of muslimicity is the purist, we can keep busy at home, shedding our ethnocentricity and recouping the losses we’ve suffered during our attempts to impose our brand of capitalism and democracy where it’s unwanted. Oh yes. We can also deal with the crooks on Wall Street. [1.]

Meanwhile, the Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror. According to current political cant, it will take years, perhaps generations to defeat terrorism. Now everyone can breath easily. No need to confront national problems, simply fixate on terror. However, proponents of a long term engagement with terror would do well to remember the fate of the French in Viet Nam, the Russians in Afghanistan, Napoleon in Russia, the Brits in America twice and the US in Viet Nam. Terror is part of the human condition. It will never be defeated by war. It can be sublimated, but that’s something our politicians seem willing to avoid.

For people saturated with terrorism, perpetually trapped, as it were, inside an Iron Maiden with an adolescent suicide bomber, I suggest the following remedies. Frequent and liberal doses of sarcasm, mockery, laughter and ridicule would certainly help. And read up on some terrorists from back-in-the-day. History will reveal contemporary terrorists to be merely tawdry exhibitionists.

Their kidnappings, beheadings, bombings, burnings and mass murders, constantly talked about, reported on and analyzed, will pale into insignificanse when compared to the exquisite terrors inflicted byTimor Lane, Pope Innocent the IV,  Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. These sadists did not wear masks nor seek publicity. They were confident of their missions. Leave all this Mid-East stuff to the Mid-East, the entire Mid-East. They’ve started killing each other, a good sign, so leave them to it. As Jon Stewart said, ” It’s all Bull shit”. So let’s start cleaning the shit off our boots. They’ve been on the ground for far too long.

[1.] The financial crash of 2008 was another kind of terror. American’s awoke to discover their  investments and pensions had been electronically siphoned into Wall Street banks. Overnight, America’s middle class almost disappeared and to date, no bank financial officer has been prosecuted, much less put in jail. The nation’s unity, so prominent after World War II, was fractured into a corrosive cocktail of bewilderment, disbelief, cynicism, disgust and fear. In seventy years, the US has dwindled from the world’s richest, most optimistic and powerful nation, to third world status.

The question is, will it stay there?

Note: In 1945, I was 8 years old. I clearly remember VE Day. I and my fellow students were given small paper American flags and sang “God Bless America” as we marched en mass around our school.

 
 

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Aspects of Terror 2. Paris, 1757.

Foucault, Michel:  Discipline & Punish, the Birth of the Prison, translated from the French by Alan Sheridan, pps. 3-5,Vintage Books, New York, 1995

The Body of the Condemned

On 2 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned ‘to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris, where he was to be ‘taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds’; then, ‘in the said cart, to the Place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be tom from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds’.

‘Finally, he was quartered, recounts the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 1 April 1757. ‘This last operation was very long, because the horses used were not accustomed to drawing; consequently, instead of four, six were needed; and when that did not suffice, they were forced, in order to cut off the wretch’s thighs, to sever the sinews and hack at the joints.

‘It is said that, though he was always a great swearer, no blas­phemy escaped his lips; but the excessive pain made him utter horrible cries, and he often repeated: “ My God, have pity on me! Jesus, help me!” The spectators were all edified by the solicitude of the parish priest of St. Paul’s who despite his great age did not spare himself in offering consolation to the patient.

Bouton, an officer of the watch, left us his account: ‘The sulphur was lit, but the flame was so poor that only the top skin of the hand was burnt, and that only slightly. Then the executioner, his sleeves rolled up, took the steel pincers, which had been especially made for the occasion, and which were about a foot and a half long, and pulled first at the calf of the right leg, then at the thigh, and from there at the two fleshy parts of the right arm; then at the breasts. Though a strong, sturdy fellow, this executioner found it so difficult to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so, and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size of a six-pound crown piece.

‘After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself; the same executioner dipped an iron spoon in the pot con­taining the boiling potion, which he poured liberally over each wound. Then the ropes that were to be harnessed to the horses were attached with cords to the patient’s body; the horses were then harnessed and placed alongside the arms and legs, one at each limb.

‘Monsieur Le Breton, the clerk of the court, went up to the patient several times and asked him if he had anything to say. He said he had not; at each torment, he cried out, as the damned in hell are supposed to cry out, “Pardon, my God! Pardon, Lord.” Despite all this pain, he raised his head from time to time and looked at himself boldly. The cords had been tied so tightly by the men who pulled the ends that they caused him indescribable pain. Monsieur le Breton went up to him again and asked him if he had anything to say; he said no. Several confessors went up to him and spoke to him at length; he willingly kissed the crucifix that was held out to him; he opened his lips and repeated: “ Pardon, Lord.”

‘The horses tugged hard, each pulling straight on a limb, each horse held by an executioner. After a quarter of an hour, the same ceremony was repeated and finally, after several attempts, the direction of the horses had to be changed, thus: those at the arms were made to pull towards the head, those at the thighs towards the arms, which broke the arms at the joints. This was repeated several times without success. He raised his head and looked at himself. Two more horses had to be added to those harnessed to the thighs, which made six horses in all. Without success.

Scan

‘Finally, the executioner, Samson, said to Monsieur Le Breton that there was no way or hope of succeeding, and told him to ask their Lordships if they wished him to have the prisoner cut into pieces. Monsieur Le Breton, who had come down from the town, ordered that renewed efforts be made, and this was done; but the horses gave up and one of those harnessed to the thighs fell to the ground. The confessors returned and spoke to him again. He said to them (I heard him): “ Kiss me, gentlemen.” The parish priest of St Paul’s did not dare to, so Monsieur de Marsilly slipped under the rope holding the left arm and kissed him on the forehead. The executioners gathered round and Damiens told them not to swear, to carry out their task and that he did not think ill of them; he begged them to pray to God for him, and asked the parish priest of St Paul’s to pray for him at the first mass.

‘After two or three attempts, the executioner Samson and he who had used the pincers each drew out a knife from his pocket and cut the body at the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints; the four horses gave a tug and carried off the two thighs after them, namely, that of the right side first, the other following; then the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs; the flesh had to be cut almost to the bone, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards.
‘When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive. The four limbs were untied from the ropes and thrown on the stake set up in the enclosure in line with the scaffold, then the trunk and the rest were covered with logs and faggots, and fire was put to the straw mixed with this wood.

In accordance with the decree, the whole was reduced to ashes. The last piece to be found in the embers was still burning at half-past ten in the evening. The pieces of flesh and the trunk had taken about four hours to burn. The officers of whom I was one, as also was my son, and a detachment of archers remained in the square until nearly eleven o’clock.

For an analysis of Discipline & Punish, the Birth of the Prison, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish

 

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