Sunday, August 3, 2008

Apple #332: Welcome to August

Not sure this needs any introduction. Except to say that August roughed me up pretty badly a couple of times in the past. But in accordance with my pledge that this year will be like the phoenix, I am determined not to let that happen this year.

  • The word "august" probably comes from a word that means, essentially, indicated by the augurs (prophets or prophecies) as being favorable.
  • In terms of the calendar, though, the 8th month is called August after Caesar Augustus, adopted son of Julius who established the Julian calendar, which is very close to the Gregorian calendar that we use today. This emperor was also called "venerable ruler."
Statue of Julius Caesar Augustus (and also Cupid at his ankle), which now stands in the Vatican.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

  • The term "august" can also mean all sorts of wonderful things, depending on which dictionary you consult, such as:
      • profoundly honored
      • marked by majestic dignity or grandeur
      • befitting a lord or one with exalted birth
      • inspiring reverence or admiration

Ragweed, not goldenrod, is the bane of allergy-sufferers' existence.
(Photo from WQAD)

  • The French Republic calendar used to call the 8th month Thermidor, or "hot month." (Actually, this month ran from about mid-July to mid-August in the Gregorian calendar.)
      • That word "Thermidor" may remind you, as it did me, of Lobsters Thermidor. What's the connection, you ask?
      • Okay, if you'll remember your French history for a moment, after Robespierre and the French Revolutionaries stormed the Bastille and all, they started hacking off the heads of royalty left and right, and they got totally out of control. This period is considered the "Reign of Terror."

This is not at all how I pictured Robespierre. He looks way too namby-pamby to have orchestrated several years' worth of executions. But, in fact, he did. In his mind, he was "weeding out" people who would undermine the Revolution.
(Photo of portrait from Wikipedia)

      • A few years later, Robespierre was overthrown (his head was cut off, actually), and the Reign of Terror was considered to be ended. This happened during the month of Thermidor.
      • Fast forward about a century, and in 1891, a French play called "Thermidor" opened. Though the Revolution had ended long ago, political tensions in France were very high and people were sharply divided along class lines. The play caused such an outcry that it was banned after only three performances.
"Night second scarcely allowed the actors to speak. A more astonishing scene was never seen in any theatre. Pandemonium reigned in the auditorium. The house was packed, and . . . the excitement was intense. . . . Lissagary, the editor of the Bataille, threw cents, whistles, and one-franc coins on the stage. He was requested to leave the proscenium box. Others were forced to quit the scene of the action . . . 'A mort Sardou' [death to the author of the play] was heard. . . . there could be no doubt of the presence of a large number purposely on hand to fight the play down. . . . At each lull the artists would begin, soon to be lost in noise and whistle. . . . After the spectacle, the street was full, and I am told that the police had to clear the way and carry off a good many shouters."

--New York Times review, Sardou's Ill-Fated "Thermidor," February 15, 1891
      • The night the play opened, the story goes, a French chef at the Marie restaurant in the Boulevard Saint-Denis in Paris invented the dish called Lobster Thermidor in honor of this play. Or perhaps, given the way the lobster is prepared, it is in honor of the decapitation of Robespierre.
      • In brief, here's how you make Lobster Thermidor (for a more precise recipe, check out the Old Foodie):
          • Start with a live lobster. Split it in two, lengthwise, while it's still kicking.
          • Season it all up, give it some oil, and roast it in the shell for about 15-20 minutes
          • While your lobster is roasting, make a stock of white wine, fish stock, and meat gravy, add some French-like spices and some chopped shallots. (Some people add mushrooms, or they use Sherry instead of white wine, etc.)
          • Reduce the stock, add a very thick Bechamel sauce (oh, so French!) and mustard.
          • Eyeball the amount of sauce you've got and add about 1/3 that amount's worth of butter. Can you feel the French yet?
          • Take the meat out of the lobster shells and give it a rough chop.
          • Pour some of your creamy-buttery sauce into the lobster shells, put the chopped lobster back in there, cover it with the rest of the sauce.
          • Add more butter and Parmesan cheese, and put it all back in the oven again to brown it up.

Lobster Thermidor, as served at Andre's in Las Vegas. According to someone who commented on the photo, this was the best lobster ever.
(Photo by ccaviness on Flickr)

  • Although Lobster Thermidor was not invented in the month of August, and technically the overthrow of Robespierre took place in what is now our July, I will now think of Lobster Thermidor in connection with August.

So that's the month of August. The month that is favorable for kings, assassinations, weeds, decapitations, and flayed lobsters. It's all making sense now.

Online Etymology Dictionary, august
OneLook, august
E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898, Months
Columbia Encyclopedia, sixth edition, Thermidor
The Old Foodie, A revolutionary dish, January 24, 2006

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!