Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mansard Roofed Houses, Maynard, MA

The image of impoverished writers, starving for their art and living in garrets, predated the era of Paris as a city of garrets tucked under mansard roofs. Garrets were attic living spaces - hot in summer, cold in winter - fit quarters only for servants or the poorer sort of tenants. The British artist William Hogarth, renowned satirist, painted The Distrest Poet in 1736 as an image of a writer awash in poverty - he sits at his garret desk, pen in hand, while his wife is darning clothes and a milkmaid stands in the doorway, demanding payment of debts. [An observation: When Hogarth published and sold engravings of the image, the black-and-white prints were a mirror image of the original oil painting, so that the distressed poet switched from being right handed to left handed.]   

As to what is and why called 'mansard,' the style originated with a French architect, Francois Mansart (1598-1666). He was an builder for the wealthy aristocracy, and even for them a tribulation, as he at times changed his plans in mid-construction and insisted the building be torn down and started over again. He fell out of favor with the royal court and others when the foundation for one of his buildings cost more than his original estimate for the entire project.

The Paris of mansard-roofed buildings (and garrets) dates to what is referred to as the "Second Empire Style" of French architecture  (1855-1885). Emperor Napoleon III ordered a reconstruction of Paris that swept away the medieval street plan of Paris, resulting in the elegant city we are familiar with today. Boulevards were lined with stone-faced, five-story buildings capped by a mansard roof. This top space was in effect a sixth floor walk-up (elevators not yet invented).

Mansard roof design calls for a nearly vertical roof that slants in on all sides. At a height similar to a floor of the building all sides of the roof continue at a very shallow upward slant. The steep part of the roof is punctuated by dormers. The net effect is a habitable living space under the roof rather than an additional floor of the building. Decorative details are ornate rather than spare.

The Lorenzo Maynard mansion on Dartmouth Street. Built 1870s.
In the U.S., Second Empire Style houses and public buildings came into vogue during the time of  post-Civil War prosperity, especially among the wealthy merchant class. Houses had two or three floors capped by a mansard roof. These houses typically had extensive porches, sometimes a tower, and a carriage house, also with a mansard roof. In Maynard, the best existing example is Lorenzo Maynard's mansion, at 7-9 Dartmouth Road. It still has the original stained glass windows. The modest house to the west was Lorenzo's carriage house. There are two more on Dartmouth - the next house over (#13) and an 1960s-built apartment complex at the site of what had been Amory Maynard's even larger mansard roofed mansion.    

Four other 1870s mansard-roofed houses grace Maynard. Three are on Maple Street. One has a similarly roofed carriage house. The largest of the three is now four apartments, but once was the dwelling of the Case family, owner of W.B. Case & Sons, Dry Goods - now the Outdoor Store. The last is a house just west of ArtSpace, on Summer Street.
Gambrel roof house (internet photo)

A mansard roof is related but not the same thing as a gambrel roof. The latter are common in Maynard. Gambrels are seen more often on rectangular buildings which have only one story below the roof. The shorter sides rise straight up from ground to peak, while the roof on the long sides starts steep, often punctuated by windowed dormers, then continues with a less slanted roof to the roof beam. The architectural style is called Dutch Colonial. Many of the homes in the part of town with streets named after Presidents have gambrel roofs. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Traditional Arabic Medicine

Women shopping at an herb and spice store,
Aleppo,Syria, 2007. Click on photos to enlarge.
Traditional Arabic Medicine (TAM) is far less well-known in the U.S. compared to other “traditional,” i.e., non-Western medical practices such as traditional Chinese medicine or traditional Indian (Ayurvedic or Unani) medicine. Per the World Health Organization, “Traditional medicine refers to health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant-, animal- and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques, and exercises applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being.”

Much of the roots of Traditional Arabic Medicine stem from the Alexandrian conquests and the subsequent hundreds of years of rule by Greek colonists in the Hellenistic States, stretching from what is now Egypt to the western edges of what is now India. The medical works of Hippocrates and Galen laid the foundations for medical practice in the Middle East. Greek-derived medicine survived the Roman conquests and was later formalized by the translations of Greek texts into Arabic in the 8th century A.D. Major Ayurvedic texts were also being translated into Arabic at the same time, and Ayurvedic practices were melded into Arabic medicine

Advances in medicine during the Abbasid Caliphate (8th to 13th centuries) included the establishment of hospitals, surgical methods, medical encyclopedias, medical schools and the standardization of botanical preparations. The western reaches of the Islamic empire reached into what is now Spain, with centers of learning in Cordoba and Granada. Toward the end of the 12th century, translations from Arabic to Latin of such works as the Canon of Medicine and the Comprehensive Book on Medicine laid the foundation for the development of “Western” medicine in Europe.

Current use of TAM varies widely across the Middle East, and within countries by socio-economic status and education. Ethnobotanists have identified 200 to 300 plant-derived products in common use. The list includes: anise, black seed, cardamom, chamomile, cherry, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cress, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, flax, frankincense, galingale, ginger, Greek sage, henna, laurel, licorice, mastic, mint, mustard, nutmeg, olive, parsley, pepper, pimento, rosemary, saffron, senna, sumac, Syrian rue, turmeric and wormwood.

As an example of how one of these might show up as a modern dietary supplement ingredient, frankincense (Boswellia serrata) contains various boswellic acids, which can be concentrated into a Boswellia extract. Boswellic acids have been shown to inhibit the inflammation pathway. In clinical trials, Boswellia extracts have demonstrated promising effects in osteoarthritis, colitis and asthma.

In many cultures, traditional medicines include animal
parts in addition to plants. This shop has starfish and
turtle shells in addition to herbs, spices and food.
The 21st century future for TAM is not as strong as it is for traditional Indian or Chinese medicine. A 2006 visit to Damascus and Aleppo found herb-selling traditional Arab pharmacies in the souks, but in the suburbs there were cars double-parked in front of modern pharmacies where consumers raced in to buy glucosamine, ginkgo and other non-indigenous complementary and alternative medicines.

A survey of Arab practitioners in the Middle Eastern region provides evidence that TAM does not have this forward-looking momentum. Practitioners considered to be knowledgeable in their trade inherited the practice from their fathers or male relatives, or learned it as an apprentice. The survey's authors mentioned that the number of practitioners they were able to locate was fewer than reported in earlier surveys. There was limited exchange of information among healers, and no systematic instruction of the next generation of healers. The healers either sourced their herbs from the wild - limiting them to what grew locally - or purchased products from traditional Arab pharmacies. On average, each healer used only 22 botanical products in their practice - far fewer than the 200-300 that ethnobiologists had identified as still in common use. On the bright side, there are attempts to establish re­search/teaching centers, including gardens for medicinal plants.

To remain vibrant, any traditional medicine requires schools to continue to graduate practitioners, agreed upon definitions for botanical materials, stable sources of those plants and a population of consumers seeking traditional treatments. Given the current world dominance of “Western” medicine, advocates of traditional medicine may also try to apply evidence-based research methods to traditional practices. This typically involves identification of the active compounds in plant extracts, followed by evaluation through human studies. This approach can be conducted at regional universities. Or students from the region who have moved to other countries to complete their advanced education could conduct research there on treatments they were familiar with from childhood.

Black Seed (Nigella sativa) is one of the most commonly used botanical products throughout the Middle East. It is also an example of “Prophetic Medicine” - referring to health and disease statements found in the Holy Koran and in the Hadith - writings, sayings and traditions from Mohammad, the Prophet of Islam. An English translation of one statement: “There is healing in black seed for all ailments, except death.” Usage is oral consumption of the crushed seeds, sometimes mixed with foods (especially honey), or else oil extracted from the seeds. Traditional uses include treating  asthma, allergies, bronchitis, gastro-intestinal problems, to increase milk production in nursing mothers, and others. Placebo-controlled human studies suggest that Nigella extracts might lower blood pressure, cholesterol and fasting glucose.   

And because what's old is new again, local pharmacies carry dietary supplements containing ingredients such as chamomile, cinnamon, fenugreek, frankincense, garlic, ginger, turmeric...


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Salt-Cured Meat and Fish

Before refrigeration, before commercial development of the ice business, before canned goods, salting and/or drying, with or without smoke, were the major means of preserving meat. The idea was to make the food inhospitable to bacteria and mold, yet still edible. Hog killing time was in the fall. Yield included hams, bacon, sausage and a barrel of pork meat submerged in strong brine. What we call salt pork now is a small fraction of what went into a barrel back then. With careful planning the brined meat would last a family through the winter. In a novel set in colonial times, James Fenimore Cooper wrote: "I hold a family to be in a desperate way, when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel."

Late fall, after the first frosts, was hog killing time for a few reasons. Colder weather meant less of a problem with flies and risk of rot while the meat was being processed. Piglets from the spring's litter would have become hogs weighing 150 to 200 pounds. There was no reason to keep/feed hogs over the winter (except for the breeders, which reached an adult weight of 400 to 600 pounds, and ate 6,000 calories a day). Meat was packed in salt and let sit for weeks, with holes in the bottom of the basin for water to drip out. From here, some went into the smoke house for weeks of drying, while other cuts went into a barrel of brine. Either way, non-refrigerated storage was good for months and more. In Italy, air-dried Prosciutto hams are aged 14-30 months before going to market.

Salt beef was another food common to the era before refrigeration, especially aboard sailing ships, as barrels of this commodity would keep for months. Nowadays we are reduced to corned beef and pastrami, the key difference between the two being that the latter is dried and smoked in between the initial brining and the end-stage cooking. Much of the land in Ireland was given over to cattle for the British Navy and merchant fleets, leaving the native Irish to the cities, and potatoes. The Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s, caused by a potato wasting disease, forced many to emigrate to the Americas, locally to work in factories.    

Salt cod. Click on photo to enlarge. (Internet download)
Salt cod is third example of a once common New England food, now less so. In Catholic neighborhoods, especially, markets would have these air-dried, salted, unrefrigerated fillets on display. The buyer would soak the cod in fresh water for at least 24 hours, changing the water several times, in order to rehydrate, and remove most of the salt. In Norway there used to be five different grades of salt cod: superior extra, superior, imperial, universal and popular. Top quality came from the fish being caught on a fishing line, bled while still alive, beheaded, gutted and immediately salted. This versus netted - which probably meant the fish was dead a while before being beheaded and gutted - then frozen on the ship, then thawed, salted and dried once ashore.

While all Catholics were eating salt cod during Lent, the local Finnish population had started eating lipeƤkala (lutefisk, i.e., 'lye fish') before Christmas. Same salt cod, but after the rehydrating water soak, soaked a couple of days in a strong lye solution, them more days of water soaking to remove most of the lye. First-timers describe is as either soapy tasting fish or fishy tasting soap. Either way, a strong odor and an acquired taste.     

'Pork barrel politics' is a metaphor for the appropriation of federal or state government spending for projects designed to bring money to a representative's home district. Construction, defense spending, and agricultural subsidies are the most commonly cited examples. A famous Massachusetts example was the Big Dig, a multi-billion dollar, federally funded, traffic improvement project shepherded through Congress by Thomas 'Tip' O'Neill, Jr., then representing Boston and serving as Speaker of House of Representatives. Closer to home we have the Assabet River Rail Trail, primarily funded by the Federal Highway Administration from the federal fuel tax. Your (and other people's) tax dollars at work.

"Bottom of the barrel" has other origins. When wine is stored in barrels, solid materials composed of grape skin fragments, dead yeast cells, tartaric acid crystals and precipitating tannins (the last from the grapes and also the wood of the barrel) settle to the bottom and are referred to as dregs or lees. Modern-day bottled wines are filtered, so there is much less of this, and thus less need for decanters, but even then there can be some post-filtering precipitates. Back in the era of unfiltered wine, the well-off got the good stuff and the poorer class of people drank wine from the bottom of the barrel. Present day usage means something being of poor quality. There is a belief that beer drawn from a fermentation tank is progressively darker toward the bottom. Not true.