literature

Blueberry festival in Belgium: The Witch and the Black Goat

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While witches have always existed in the Salm valley, just like anywhere else, the folklore group of the Macralles du Val de Salm from Belgium has only been in existence since 1955. Every year on 20 of July, the Macralles gather at a place: called Tienne-Messe to celebrate their Sabbath. This “Son et lumière” show stages amusing anecdotes about what has happened to certain of the people of the Salm valley during the last year, all in the Walloon dialect. Then the next day, they march in procession through the streets of the he Fête des Myrtilles (Blueberry Festival – July 21). The story of the Macralles is drawn from a local legend: the legend of Gustine Makra.

The course of the event: Every July 20 and for 24 hours, the “Neurès Bièsses” (the Macralles) symbolically take possession of the key of the city, and gather on the rocks of Tiennemesse to hold their Sabbath in the presence of their master, the “NeûrBo” (the Black Goat), who is none other than the Devil. This ceremony attracts more than 2,000 spectators every year. The macralleboast, in the local patois, of their harmful activities perpetrated during the year, whose targets are very diverse.

From 7:30 pm, musical and visual entertainment in the streets of Vielsalm

At 9:30 pm: taking the keys to the city; the macralles invade the communal park! During a scenario reviewed every year, they seize the key to the great displeasure of the mayor and the country guard. They then demand power for a period of 24 hours.
The “Neurès Bièsses” (the macralles) then gather at a place called Tiennemesse.
They review funny events and anecdotes of local and regional life. The devil, Neûr Bo (black goat) presides over this ceremony full of magic, terror and laughter. Every year, more than a thousand spectators witness this real sound and light.
Highlights of the Sabbath: – the arrival by the air of witches, with the help of their broom of course! – the establishment of the cauldron where the emmacrallée potion, the “tcha-tcha” will be concocted – the arrival of the devil on an authentic hearse – the enthronements of personalities, greeted by hunting horns and artifices. Not to mention the various more or less skilful attempts of the Country Guard (“the Emmacrallé”) who tries, without much success it must be said, to put an end to the Sabbath and tries to make public order reign!


Who has already once attended the Sabbath in the past should not be afraid to see the same things again from year to year because the Sabbath changes over the years. If we always strive to maintain a common frame to the various performances, we seek above all constantly not to tire the faithful spectators, especially through the use of many accessories and disguises, as well as music adapted and composed by our technical team. The lighting and a studied pyrotechnics make it possible to stage the highlights of the Sabbath, to enhance the play of the actors and the visual effects.
The “Neurès Bièsses” also take advantage of this sound and light show to induct certain personalities, both local and national, and thus confer on them the title of “Baron des Frambâches”. The ritual of enthronement consists in making the future Barons taste the “tcha-tcha” (potion based on crushed blueberries) and to make them ride
and broom and repeat the sentence that will “emmacraller” them forever: “Sôte, Mirôte, oût hayes èt bouchons!”

On the Sabbath are also enthroned the young Macralles nicknamed the ” loumerottes “. The loumerottes only become real Macralles after two years of apprenticeship.
After the Sabbath, a reception is organized and brings together all the members of the Macralles group, as well as the Barons of the Frambâches and the sympathizers. The opportunity for everyone to meet, and to sign the Golden Book, a real treasure illustrated by many cartoonists, each more prestigious than the other…

In addition to the outdoor processions, the Macralles are of course rampant in their own locality; collection of eggs and giant omelette offered each beginning of the year, local entertainment etc. 

By the way every October 31 from 1999 to 2008, the Macralles also organized the Halloween party for children: torchlight procession in the streets of the locality, followed by a ball for all the little devils and other monsters!
Between 2000 and 2010, the Macralles of the Val de Salm were the initiators of 7 “Great Gatherings of Witches”.
The program of these diabolical days expanded as the editions went on: artisanal market ofthewitch, street entertainment: storytellers, fire-eaters, jugglers, magicians, puppet theater, medieval musicians and other troubadours.

In the evening, a large international procession of groups of witches took place: “sisters” came especially from the whole of Belgium, but also from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland; as early as 2001, for the first time in Belgium, the presence of luminous electric floats in the procession, always on the theme of witchcraft, which will dazzle more than one!

For the pleasure of the eyes, no less than 8,000 light points are needed per tank to perfect the magic of the show. The closing evening in the communal park is placed under the sign of fire, accompanied by wild music.

The legend of Gustine Makra: she had managed to awaken the fairies and gnomes from hibernation, but she had also revived tormentors and ghosts, werewolves and demons. Fortunately, the later canonized Gengoux, long ago, managed to conjure up the Beings of Darkness. But now that almost 1313 years have passed, they are about to wake up again… Do you manage to make contact with above- , extraterranean and subterranean creatures and reveal the Mysteries of the Macralle? You can learn the language of the black magicians, who not only uses words, but also sound vibrations –and waves, sound patterns and music? After all, don’t you shy away from fighting Gustine Makra & her Creatures of Darkness, and putting them back to sleep with the appropriate formula.

Tulip, Love and the Persian New Year

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The superstar of the spring there is no doubt that the tulip is. They can take centre stage like no other flower can, creating unforgettable spring shows. Because the tulip is truly an extraordinary flower. It has a past steeped in legend and has been a muse for art and poetry, it has obsessed nations, and enthralled sultans. Here is one of the exotic legends of its origin from the 6th century. The tale goes…In Persian folklore, the first tulip is said to have bloomed from the blood of star crossed lovers, Farhad and Shirin, in a tale reminiscent of the infamous Romeo and Juliet.

A lowly stone cutter, Farhad, loved the Princess Shirin, and wanted to win her heart. When she heard of this, she would have none of it, and would not even see him, what would she want with a lowly tradie? So Farhad took to the hills with his flute and made beautiful music in praise of Princess Shirin. He fasted as he pined for his love, and soon the villagers made him the talk of the town. They saw Farhad’s plight and felt for him, so they conspired that the two should meet. Princess Shirin was led into the mountain’s forest by her courtesan and when she saw Farhad and heard his music, she fell in love.

The father isn’t happy When her father, the Shah heard that his only daughter had fallen for someone beneath her he was not happy. He could see that she loved him, but was adamant that she should not. He was no dummy, he knew if he told her no, then he may lose her, so he devised a clever plan. He decreed that Farhad, being a commoner, must complete a task, a task that no man could complete. A task that heroes would run from, and only if he was able to do this could he have any hope of ever being with his beloved princess. Now, you might think that that is clever, but it is not the best bit. He had Shirin ask this of Farhad, as a task she wanted complete.

So Princess Shirin went to Farhad and asked  him to dig a canal through the bedrock of the hills. Not just any canal mind you, it had to be six lances wide and three lances deep, oh and forty miles long! She appears quite high maintenance by today’s standards!

Farhad didn’t blink, he loaded up his spade and headed for the hills. He laboured tirelessly for years. From dawn to dark he worked his spade, building the canal, and he was making real progress. The princess would visit, in secret to watch him work, falling deeper and deeper in love – he must have been rippling with muscles by this stage!

Word reached the Shah that Farhad had almost completed his task. The clever trick was not going to plan. The Shah sought council from his cunning Viziers. Together they plotted to send one of the princesses courtiers to tell Farhad that Shirin was dead, hoping that with a broken heart he would give up and go away.

So the courtesan was sent to tell Farhad that the princess was dead. He did not believe her, but was eventually convinced. Then, overcome by grief, Farhad used his spade to take his life, and his blood flowed into the canal.

Things didn’t go according to plan When news reached Princess Shirin she ran to the mountains to see if it was true. Upon seeing him, she then took her own life. Where they lay together, their scarlet blood pooled, and each drop formed a tulip. Ensuring their love will live forever.”

Unhappy end…but at least the tulip has become the most cherished flower since… The Iranian celebrate the spring with this flower at Nowruz‘s time, which is the name of the Iranian New Year, also known as the Persian New Year but it is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups usually on or around March 21 on the Gregorian calendar. Nowruz has Iranian and Zoroastrian origins; however, it has been celebrated by diverse communities for over 3,000 years in Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the  Black Sea Basin, the Balkans, and South Asia. It is a secular holiday for most celebrants that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths, but remains a holy day for Zoroastrians, Bahá’ís, and some Muslim communities. Nowruz is the day of the vernal equinox and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendars. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and families gather together to observe the rituals. While Nowruz has been celebrated since the reform of the Iranian Calendar in the 11th century CE to mark the new year, the United Nation officially recognized the “International Day of Nowruz” in 2010.

Sweet dates balls

House cleaning and shopping

House cleaning, or shaking the house (xāne tekāni) is commonly done before the arrival of Nowruz. People start preparing for Nowruz with a major spring cleaning of their homes and by buying new clothes to wear for the New Year, as well as the purchase of flowers. The hyacinth and the tulip are popular and conspicuous.

Visiting family and friends

During the Nowruz holidays, people are expected to make short visits to the homes of family, friends and neighbors. Typically, young people will visit their elders first, and the elders return their visit later. Visitors are offered tea and pastries, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and mixed nuts or other snacks. Many Iranians throw large Nowruz parties in as a way of dealing with the long distances between groups of friends and families.

Haft-sin

Typically, before the arrival of father Nowruz, family members gather around the Haft-sin table and await the exact moment of the March equinox to celebrate the New Year. Traditionally, the Haft-sin (seven things beginning with the letter sin are

  • sabze– wheat barley, mung bean or lentil sprouts grown in a dish.
  • samanu– sweet pudding made from wheat germ
  • senjed -Persian olive oil
  • serke-vinegar
  • sib-apple
  • sir-garlic
  • somāq-sumac

The Haft-sin table may also include a mirror, candles, painted eggs, a bowl of water, goldfish, coins, hyacinth, tulip and traditional confectioneries. A “book of wisdom” such as the Quran, Bible, Avesta, the Sahname or the divān of Hafez may also be included. Haft-sin’s origins are not clear. The practice is believed to have been popularized over the past 100 years.

In Iran, the traditional heralds of the festival of Nowruz are Amu Nowruz and Haji Firuz, who appear in the streets to celebrate the New Year. Amu Nowruz brings children gifts, much like his counterpart Santa Claus. He is the husband of Nane Sharma, with whom he shares a traditional love story in which they can meet each other only once a year (one more love story!) He is depicted as an elderly silver-haired man with a long beard carrying a walking stick, wearing a felt hat, a long cloak of blue canvas, a sash, giveh, and linen trousers. Haji Firuz, a character with his face and hands covered in soot, clad in bright red clothes and a felt hat, is the companion of Amu Nowruz. He dances through the streets while singing and playing the tambourine. In the traditional songs, he introduces himself as a serf trying to cheer people whom he refers to as his lords. His face is covered in soot, and he is clad in bright red clothes and a felt hat. He dances through the streets while singing and playing a tambourine. In the traditional songs, he introduces himself as a serf trying to cheer people whom he refers to as his lords. As a black-faced serf, he is a controversial character, seen as symbolically racist. Therefore, half of his face is sometimes painted white in order to avoid the criticisms. According to some sources, Hajji Firuz is based on a tradition called Mir Nowruzi. Mir Nowruz was a comical figure chosen to rule the municipality for “the last five days of the year” (Panje). The temporary “five-day king” (Šāh e Panj Ruze) would often parade the city with a group of singers and dancers for the Nowruz celebrations

Later, it was claimed that the blackened face of Hajji Firuz symbolizes his returning from the world of the dead, his red clothing is the sign of the blood of Siavash and the coming to life of the sacrificed deity, while his joviality is the jubilation of rebirth, typical of those who bring rejuvenation and blessing along with themselves. Bahar speculates that the name Siyāwaxš might mean ‘black man’ or ‘dark-faced man’ and suggests that the term black in the name may be a reference either to the blackening of the faces of the participants in the aforementioned Mesopotamian ceremonies, or to the black masks that they wore for the festivities.

Oven baked sweet potato with kidney beans

The Italian Mother Christmas and the Italian bagels

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Santa Claus, his Italian name is Babbo Natale, aka Father Christmas, but what’s interesting is that in Italy he’s not the gift-giver, but the “La Befana” (the name derives from Epiphania). That creature, still considered an evil witch in the Middle Ages, was called La Vecchia (old woman) and was alarmed with a bell. In the later centuries, however, Befana has become a kind, gift-giving fairy. Her first celebration, according to legend, took place during the birth of Jesus and the Three Kings:- “When the Three Kings came to Befana’s house with gifts on their camel, as she owned the most prettiest house in the village, they asked him for accommodation for one night. The next day, when they set out, they called Befana to go with them to Bethlehem, but she claimed that she still had a lot of work to do. Later, however, she changed her mind and went after them, but even though she followed the bright star, she could not find the Three Kings anywhere, so in every house where children lived she left gifts in case one of them was The Little One. Every year since then, Befana pays a visit every year on the night of January 5th to 6th (12 days after Christmas) and goes looking for the Little Jesus, she peeps through the windows of every houses, and where there is a small child, and if the room is decent and clean, she drops a gift, but if she finds it messy, she will put a piece of coal in the sloppy child’s socks and put onions and garlic next to their pillows.”

Taralli, the Italian bagel

As December 6th approached, my Italian friend Rosella brought up the Italian customs associated with the Befana, and since there is no holiday without festive food, she gave me some Italian recipe in addition to Mother Christmas’s story. -“I admit that I grew up not really know why La Befana was so special,”- Rosella began, -“my parents always said she was a distant relative of Santa Claus, and I was satisfied with that explanation. I was about five or six years old when I woke up on the morning of Epiphania Day with a delicate scent of anise. When I sat up in my bed, next to my pillow, I found something that looked like a piece of coal. I was at the edge of crying, but when I looked at it closely, I realized that what I thought was carbon was actually marshmallows (marshmallows, soled in black licorice).

Consumed it, of course, I immediately came to terms with the world and Befana. I’m not saying it was brilliant. The prankster, of course, as it turned out later, was my father, because as I thought back to the events of the previous day, it came together that Vito – I like to call my father on his name – had begged me the night before to go over for a glass of Limoncello (lemon liqueur) and taralli to my grandma’s. Grandma always prepared this for La Befana, with the exclamation that the poor woman needed it very much to regain her strength after climbing down the chimney to us ( at that time we had no chimney at all, and grandma needed the liquor after the whole day’s robot, haha).

“With milk and biscuit for Mother Christmas, it doesn’t seem to be good!” -My father said with a big smile, “because over the centuries, this La Befana has become more sophisticated in taste, especially in the field of alcoholic beverages!”- He added, looking at Grandma, and she laughed with him. My father later told me about the candy, disguised as a piece of coal, that La Befana told him I was a good girl, but she wanted to make sure I stayed that way for the rest of the year, which is why she tricked me. And then he told me that when he was a little boy, back in Italy, all he got was an orange, even if he was really good, so I’m glad I had that kind of delicacy, even if it looked like a piece of coal! –

“Today in Italy, Befana’s Day is the best deal, because the lovely old lady who’s flying around, by the way, is sweeping up the nursery, having to be accompanied by a little bottle of wine and some sweet and salty biscuit. The recipes vary from country to country. In Puglia the most popular are caramel and sweets flavoured, then almond cream cakes (in Vicoli, Pescara, where my father comes), panettones and torrones, and salty Tarallis.

The Taralli (ring shaped (10 – 12.5 cm) is an Italian bagel. There is a spicy and sugar coated version. The most popular are onion, garlic, sesame, poppy-sprinkled, fennel-flavoured, peppery-chili flavoured tarallik. Sweets are eaten dipped in wine, just like cantuccini. The smaller taralli’s name is Tarallini.

Like bagels, it is necessary to cook for a short time before pushing it into the oven, which is what makes the texture so strange. In the oven, the tarlli is shelf-life in a breezy bag, but the oil-baked one go off sooner.

Star hours and Stefan Zweig

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Star hour in Germany is a metaphor for decisions, deeds or events that fatefully affect the future. The concept of astrology, which postulates that the status of the stars at the time of birth, determines the further course of life, is borrowed. In colloquial terms, Sternstunde is also used for an extraordinary or glamorous event in a positive sense.

The term gained particular popularity through Stefan Zweig’s well-known 1927 book “Star Hours of Humanity”, in which he illustrates historical transformation processes in 14 essayistic narratives based on events taking place during this period (e.g. “The Discovery of the Pacific Ocean”, “The Martian Ice Ise is created” or “The First Phone Call on the Ocean”). In the foreword, he explained the term as:

Such dramatically concentrated, fateful hours, in which a time-consuming decision is squeezed to a single date, a single hour and often only one minute, are rare in an individual’s life and rarely in the course of history. I have called them so because they shine brightly and immutably like stars over the night of transience.”

Zweig was a prominent writer in the 1920s and 1930s, befriending Arthur Schnizler and Sigmunf Freud. He was extremely popular in the United States, South America and Europe, and remains so in continental Europe; however, he was largely ignored by the British public. His fame in America had diminished until the 1990s, when there began an effort on the part of several publishing.

Critical opinion of his oeuvre is strongly divided between those who praise his humanism, simplicity and effective style, and those who criticize his literary style as poor, lightweight and superficial. Michael Hofmann scathingly attacks Zweig’s work. Hoffman uses the term “vermicular dither” to refer to a passage attributed to Zweig and quoted in 1972, though the passage does not occur in Zweig’s published work. Hofman adds that in his opinion “Zweig just tastes fake. He’s the Pepsi of Austrian writing.” Even the author’s suicide note, Hofmann suggests, causes one to feel “the irritable rise of boredom halfway through it, and the sense that he doesn’t mean it, his heart isn’t in it (not even in his suicide)”.

But Zweig is best known for his novellas (notably The Royal game, Amok, and Letter from an Unknown Woman – which was filmed in 1948 by Max Ophüls), novels ( Beware of Pity, Confusion of Feelings (homosexuality), and the posthumously published The Post Office Girl) and biographies (notably of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Ferdinand Magellan, and Mary Queen of Scots, and also the posthumously published one on Balzac). At one time his works were published without his consent in English under the pseudonym “Stephen Branch” (a translation of his real name) when anti-German sentiment was running high. His 1932 biography of Queen Marie Antoinette was adapted byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a 1938 film starring Norma Shearer.

Zweig’s memoir The World of Yesterday, was completed in 1942 one day before he committed suicide. It has been widely discussed as a record of “what it meant to be alive between 1881 and 1942” in central Europe; the book has attracted both critical praise and hostile dismissal

Zweig acknowledged his debt to psychoanalysis. In a letter dated 8 September 1926, he wrote to Freud “Psychology is the great business of my life”. He went on explaining that Freud had considerable influence on a number of writers such as  Marcel Proust H.D. Lawrence, and James Joyce giving them a lesson in “courage” and helping them overcome their inhibitions. “Thanks to you, we see many things. – Thanks to you we say many things which otherwise we would not have seen nor said.” Autobiography, in particular, had become “more clear-sighted and audacious”.

Zweig enjoyed a close association with Richard Strauss, and provided the libretto for Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman). Strauss famously defied the Nazi regime by refusing to sanction the removal of Zweig’s name from the programme for the work’s première on 24 June 1935 in Dresden. As a result,  Goebbels refused to attend as planned, and the opera was banned after three performances. Zweig later collaborated with Joseph Gregor, to provide Strauss with the libretto for one other opera, Daphne in 1937. At least one other work by Zweig received a musical setting: the pianist and composer Henry Jolles, who like Zweig had fled to Brazil to escape the Nazis, composed a song, “Último poema de Stefan Zweig”,based on “Letztes Gedicht”, which Zweig wrote on the occasion of his 60th birthday in November 1941. During his stay in Brazil, Zweig wrote Brasilien, Ein Land der Zukunft (Brazil, Land of the Future) which was an accurate analysis of his newly adopted country; in this book he managed to demonstrate a fair understanding of the Brazilian culture that surrounded him.

Zweig was a passionate collector of manuscripts. There are important Zweig collections at the British Library, at the State University of New York at Fredonia and at the National Library of Israel. The British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection was donated to the library by his heirs in May 1986. It specialises in autograph music manuscripts, including works by Bach, Haydn, Wagner and Mahler. It has been described as “one of the world’s greatest collections of autograph manuscripts” One particularly precious item is Mozart’s “Verzeichnüß aller meiner Werke” – that is, the composer’s own handwritten thematic catalogue of his works.