All posts by mallagher

Morning in San Sebastian and You’re Hungry. Where to?

Fear not! There is a really cool site that is dedicated to all things Basque, and has a page with the “5 best” breakfast spots.

Here it is!

This list intentionally features a wide variety of breakfast priorities, even featuring the best continental breakfast, i.e., croissant, espresso, and OJ. Instead of putting them in order, I’ve attempted to help guide you according to what type of breakfast eater you are. Enjoy!

It is a tough choice, but I would o for Sakona Coffee Roasters

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… though those croissants at the Loaf look pretty amazing!

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Cicero Was Not Necessarily a Cold Fish

The point has been made that when reading Cicero’s correspondence, you might get the sense that the man was a cold fish. No warmth. No passion.  And perhaps too much ego.

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Was it true?

The reality is that Cicero lived in dangerous times. They were even more dangerous for him, for he believed in so called “republican values” at a time when they were under assault by Caesar, and then Caesar’s political heirs.  This led Cicero to a bad end.

Following Julius Caesar’s death, Cicero became an enemy of Mark Antony in the ensuing power struggle, attacking him in a series of speeches. He was proscribed as an enemy of the state by the Second Triumvirate and consequently executed by soldiers operating on their behalf in 43 BC after having been intercepted during an attempted flight from the Italian peninsula. His severed hands and head were then, as a final revenge of Mark Antony, displayed on The Rostra.

Yes, that was the Mark Antony who, many, many years later would be portrayed by Richard Burton in the ill starred film, Cleopatra. The real Mark Antony was, in fact,  a bit of a brute. His wife Fulvia seems to have had anger management  issues as well

Fulvia took Cicero’s head, pulled out his tongue, and jabbed it repeatedly with her hairpin in final revenge against Cicero’s power of speech


Ironically, we get a different view of Mark Antony from Shakespeare in his amazing play, “Julius Caesar”. From Shakespeare’s imagination, we get an eloquent Mark Antony, who  was later played by Marlon Brando. Here he is! Enjoy!

Sounds great! But … of course, one should be wary of Shakespeare as historian. The reality is that Cicero was the great  master of rhetoric, not Mark Antony.. And the great speech?  It was born from Shakespeare’s own imagination, which was truly remarkable.

So what about Cicero? He found his inspiration from the Greeks

Cicero was …  educated in the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophers, poets and historians; as he obtained much of his understanding of the theory and practice of rhetoric from the Greek poet Archias[17] and from the Greek rhetorician Apollonius.[18] Cicero used his knowledge of Greek to translate many of the theoretical concepts of Greek philosophy into Latin, thus translating Greek philosophical works for a larger audience. It was precisely his broad education that tied him to the traditional Roman elite.

Above all, Cicero believed in the power of thought tied to words (rhetoric) to better society. And he achieved great rhetorical skills as evidenced by his career as a lawyer. Julius Caesar said this

“it is more important to have greatly extended the frontiers of the Roman spirit (ingenium) than the frontiers of the Roman empire”

And how about this praise from Machail

“Cicero’s unique and imperishable glory is that he created the language of the civilized world, and used that language to create a style which nineteen centuries have not replaced, and in some respects have hardly altered.”

Cicero was not just a clever talker. He re-invented the Roman language. He expanded it from its functional and material basis to enable discussion of abstract thoughts and ideals. Not just that, while his letters might appear to be rather cold, the dude was loved.

Cicero was one of the most viciously and doggedly hunted (by Mark Antony’s goons). (But) he was viewed with sympathy by a large segment of the public and many people refused to report that they had seen him. He was caught 7 December 43 BC leaving his villa in Formiae in a litter going to the seaside where he hoped to embark on a ship destined for Macedonia.[85] When his killers – Herennius (a centurion) and Popilius (a tribune) – arrived, Cicero’s own slaves said they had not seen him, but he was given away by Philologus, a freedman of his brother Quintus Cicero.

To get the full flavor of this event, consider these stories, relating to Popilius (one of the two killers) and Philologus (the man who betrayed Cicero)

Proud of his role in the murder, Popilius, the military tribune who had been sent to kill the man who once had defended him in court, set up a statue of himself wearing a wreath, sitting beside the severed head of Cicero, a gesture that so pleased Antony that he added a bonus to his award (Dio, XLVII.11.2). Perversely, Antony then handed over (Philologus) the man who had betrayed Cicero to the tribune. Philologus had been educated by Cicero and was a freedman of Quintus, Cicero’s brother. He was given up to Pomponia, who, even though she and Quintus were divorced, forced the man to cut off his own flesh bit by bit, roast the pieces, and eat them (Plutarch, Life of Cicero, XLIX).

Hmmm … dangerous times indeed.  You have to wonder that a society that nurtured such violence could also produce a Cicero. But it did.

And how did we come to receive Cicero’s ideas? It was because a dude by the name of Petrarch — who lived more than 1,000 after Cicero’s murder — re-discovered Cicero’s letters. Petrarch did not see Cicero as a cold fish. To the contrary, he loved what he saw. It enhanced his view of how society should work. IPetrarch’s re-discovery of Cicero was an inspiration for a movement that we call the renaissance. These ideas are at the root of the enlightenment. And today, we call this approach “humanism”.

From Cicero to Petrarch to us. If you are a humanist — and I would call myself one — you must be grateful for the gifts that we have received, even though their sources have largely been forgotten

And was the man who gave us this language a “col fish”? I would guess not. His letters are reserved. and cautious, as one might expect from a man living in dangerous times. But his heart was set on finding a way to build a better world.

A Quick Follow – It might seem odd that Julius Caesar would have praised Cicero (see above). Cicero saw Caesar as a grave threat to the old republic and Caesar knew it. Caesar’s good will to Cicero brings out an odd aspect of Caesar’s character. He was ruthless. And he was from the old order, believing in solidarity with other Romans. Thus, while he fought against and defeated Pompey at Pharsalus, he did not seek retribution against those he defeated (including Cicero). He pardoned them, hoping that the fabric of relationships could be repaired. Cato the younger (who had done more than anyone to bring about the civil war) probably killed himself to avoid being pardoned by Caesar. As you can see from the above, three years later, Mark Antony took a different view of things. Was that because of Caesar’s murder? Or was Mark Antony just a different sort of person?

In either case, you can see how the first civil war, murder of Julius Caesar, and then second civil war (in which Mark Antony would perish at Actium), had affected Roman civil society at the highest levels. At that stage, perhaps Octavian needed to become “Augustus Caesar”, if nothing more, just to put a lid on things. Unfortunately, that would open the door to all sorts of other issues. Soon the Romans would get Tiberius, Caligula and Nero, leading eventually to Commodus. Yikes!

Of course, Cicero was  naive in thinking that he could bring back the republic. The reality was that Rome had not really been a republic at all, let alone a democracy. It was a kleptocracy. Julius Caesar understood that. And Trollope wondered in his “Life of Cicero” how a man as intelligent as Cicero did no see the futility of his efforts.

Why William Morris Moved Beyond Art … and More!

William Morris was one of he more interesting figures of Victorian England. He set out to revitalize craftsmanship, and he succeeded. His works and the works of his fellow craftsmen were famous and sought after. Here is a peek at his style

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He founded and embodied the crafts movement. So he was a success, right? Well, yes and no. Morris loved what he did and he did it well. That  love came out in his famous proclamation “Art is the natural pleasure of a man at his work.” That is success. But there was a problem. And it was a serious one.

Morris looked around him and saw a society that stood apart from what he valued. Society did not nurture or value the “natural pleasure” in work that he deeply believed in. Instead, the rich did not work at all. Work was something others did. And the poor were dragged into work that demeaned them.

This raised a question for Morris. Which was more important? The pleasure that he got from his work on an individual basis, or changing the society that he saw as corrupted?

Which would you choose?

Morris plucked up his courage and tried to change society. He embraced the socialist cause and argued forcefully on its behalf. He lived what he believed, one might say, even at the expense of what he loved to do. Here is one of his works

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You might not agree with the solutions that Morris offered. At the same time, it is difficult to ignore the question that Morris faced. What obligations do we have to better society? Do we have any at all? Or are we totally free to take what society gives us, enjoy it, and forget everything else?

A bit more historical context might help us with that question.

We might keep in mind that the Victorians themselves were reacting to the excesses of the Regency. They were revolted by the drunken debauchery. that had become the norm in that period. Especially the excesses of the aristocracy. And they had good reason to reject this. The  American and French Revolutions and then Napoleon showed what might happen when excess precipitates reaction. The Victorians sought to bring accountability to privilege.  And one must admit that the Victorians achieved a great deal in that regard. They had their blind spots and were hypocrites in many ways, but they produced huge changes in society as well.

Consider this — the wild popularity of Charles Dickens who exposed scandals in how the poor and children were treated struck a chord because Victorians were supposed to do better.So a figure like Morris might appear to be a radical, but he embodies that Victorian sense of moral indignation and commitment to community values.

But by the 20th century, Victorian values had ossified. We get figures like the odious Marquess of Queensbury who hounded Wilde to his early grave.  And artistic rebels like Gide, Wilde, and others, rebelled against Victorian morality. They championed individual inspiration and freedom against society. And given where they were at that time, they were right to do so.  Th odd thing is that this  inspiration has stuck with us for an entire century. And it joins together a rather odd collection of figures form John Wayne to James Joyce. You might say that the 20th century was the century of rebels – from ideologists  to consumers, the individual demanded freedom to say and do what he wanted regardless of social norms.

In our own 21st century, ,we might ask ourselves whether this rebellious pose is as worn out now as Victorian sensibilities were in the early 20th century. We might even feel the urge to revisit the question posed by Morris of himself.

Of course, things are not quite that simple. Morris believed that he had the answer — and- it was socialism. In the 20th century, state control  based on “communist” ideology has been exposed as a failure. Socialism itself has had a problematic political existence in most regimes. As Sir Kenneth Clark said, the failure of Marxism has left us without an institutional “moral center”. In other words, we will not be able just to read our Morris and Marx to  get the magic bullet that solves our own problems. We remain stuck in Betham’s “utilitarian” thinking that justifies inequality and even social exclusion.

I am not sure where that answer will arise. I am sure, however, when I see the figure of Donald Trump strutting about, that I see the end of the line for the 20th century individualist rebel. Everything about him seems out of place at this point in history in the US:  He is a figure of ridicule as much as he Prince Regent was in his day.  Here is a reminder of what people thought of the Prince Regent

George Cruikshank, 1819. Loyal Address's Radical Petitions, or the R---t's most Gracious Answer to Both Sides of the Question at Once.

Trump gets similar treatment, though sadly, we do not have the great caricaturists like Gillray, Rowlandson, or  Cruikshank

What will come?  If history is any guide, we will sooner or later embrace new sets of values and new types of leaders who will be better equipped to wrestle with the problems of our new century. Sadly, human nature seems to hold us back from doing this until we are the icy grip of crisis. In the meantime, few will take note that ours is a transition period.

Viva la transition!

Who Was Greater, Shakespeare or his Mother?

It might sound like a silly question. Shakespeare is one of the greatest literary figures of all time. His mother wrote nothing. How could she be greater than the great bard?

Of course, in terms of literary achievement she cannot. Nor in terms of what we might call “success”, to the extent that the word means financial achievement. It was the son who bailed out his parents from their financial disaster.  And btw, that disaster was not a small one.

So in what sense could Mary Shakespeare be considered greater than her great son? Perhaps only in one sense. Mary Shakespeare taught her son the beauty and power of stories. Not just how to read and write, but how to appreciate words as tools in the hands of a craftsman. She inspired him. She was, in a sense, the source of his greatness.

And we know relatively little about how Mary did that. We know nothing of where they came from. We know nothing of how she told them. Nothing  of what they meant to her. We know only the effect they had on her son.

We do know that Mary iived through the reigns of Henry VIII, his son Edward, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and the James I. She saw many things. She experienced the joy of youthful ambition, and the sorrows of losing everything including children to illness. We know that her father loved her. We know that she was a good wife and mother. .We know that when the plague hit Stratford on Avon, she fled with William to the country and saved him. We know that she was a good person.

Her story is about how people lived in the Tudor period. I watched this video, narrated by Michael Wood, about Mary and enjoyed it. I think you will too!

So What Has Tobias Harris Given the Sixers so far?

It is too early to tell how well Harris and Butler will gel with the starting five. Not because they are playing poorly now, but we just don’t know how high the ceiling is.

Here is a look at Harris so far. The bottom line is that Harris is offering the Sixers just what they needed – another wing man who can shoot, put the ball on the floor, and play defense. And he can do more!

My prediction — after the all star break, the Sixer starting unit will morph into something new. The two vets, Butler and Harris will have larger say in making the offensive flow work. Simmons and Embiid and Redick will still all do their things, but if Harris and Butler have their way, the Sixers will become more efficient on offense. Better shots, fewer turnovers, better ball movement.

That means that this team could be pretty much impossible to stop on the offensive side. And if the Sixer defense tightens up (and it must do that), and the bench becomes more cohesive, we have a chance to win the East.

Will that happen? Stay tuned!


Butternut Squash Parm?

I am in the mood for a new winter dish … and I may have just found it. Here is the promo. And here is the link for more, as well as the recipe.

February isn’t an easy month to be healthyish, even when it’s your job. I started January extremely ambitiously, but now I’m staring down the contents of my fridge, unable to contemplate another root-vegetable-centric meal. So it makes sense that, when this Butternut Squash Parmesan recipe emerged from the Test Kitchen a few weeks ago, I had a complete meltdown…a happy meltdown. “It’s SO goooooood,” I told freelance recipe developer Lauren Schaefer, who developed this riff on eggplant Parm for Healthyish. Then basically everyone else on staff got their hands on a piece, and they agreed. It’s everything we want in a Parm, with the ideal ratio of tomato sauce to cheese and squash that cuts like butter and melts in your mouth. Winter, touché.

It will come out looking like this

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Here is a variation — parm butternut squash fries

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Or how about a parm butternut squash pasty?

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I had no idea that butternut squash could be so much fun!

Go for it!

War and Peace – The Greatest Film Ever Made?

This quote might intrigue you enough to check out a great article

. In Bondarchuk’s adapting of War and Peace and now Janus’s reinvigoration of the film, they don’t so much blow the dust off a classic as relight a fuse. The unadulterated recklessness coursing through all seven gripping hours makes getting some capital-c Cultcha feel like the farthest thing from fulfilling an obligation of good taste. If only Ulysses could be made to feel like Dunkirk on an inhuman dose of steroids, maybe we’d all get that much closer to being well-read.