Are medieval days here again? with a vegetable we love to hate

Broccoli loving Drusus Minor
During the first lockdown I became fascinated by a project of Canadian artist, Daniel Voshart, who transformed the chipped stone busts of ancient Roman emperors into photorealistic portraits with the help of historical artefacts details taken from coins, paintings and professional software.  He said that his project of painstakingly colourising and shaping the faces of 54 Principate rulers was 'a quarantine project that got a bit out of hand', but it has attracted much attention.I don't have either the skills or the wonders of Voshart´s technology but I have had some fun borrowing some of his ideas to illustrate the Rogues gallery in this post .I also happened at the time to be reading Tom Holland´s "Rubicon", the brilliant, bloodstained and entertaining history of the triumphs and tragedies of the Roman Empire. I almost immediately found strong similarities to how we, too, are being fast-tracked to oblivion by scarcely human megalomaniacs. On the food front, as coincidence had it, I learnt a lot about broccoli and the Roman Empire, but more on that story later. 
At this time of the year I would normally be writing about Castro Marim´s annual transition back to Medieval Days. Though the towns medieval history lives on and medieval music is being pied in the streets, there has not been a festival for two consecutive years now. The towns taberna medieval valiantly continues to promote its important history, currently with snail pies and pitchers of real ale. It seems across today's Europe, although far from perfect, political parallels can be drawn with todays governments and in particular the Roman Empire but also medieval times. The last 18 months of Tory government in the so called United Kingdom makes the Roman Republic and the House of Tudor seem quite contemporary. Henry VIII, the second monarch of House of Tudor, was most famous for having six wives and for breaking the Church of England from Catholicism.

Now just three wives short of Henry VIII.
October 2020:A leading British Tory urged the prime minister to disestablish the Church of England if controversy over its clergy´s political interventions continued. A parliamentary motion to sever ties between church and state might be required if rows sparked by political statements by its leaders persisted. As you can imagine this talk has reminded people of the medieval schism of Henry VIII, the last tyrant to meddle with the workings of the church for his benefit.

May 30th 2021 : Boris Johnson ties the knot with Carrie Antoinette. She was quick to run up the Toile de Jouy curtains but has yet to fall down the stairs. Clergy and worshippers raised query as the faith’s law does not recognise divorce. Catholic law, which does not recognise divorce, usually does not permit the remarriage of those whose former spouse, or spouses, are still alive. Johnson was divorced from his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, in 1993, and finalised his divorce from his second wife, Marina Wheeler, in November 2020. With Boris Johnson only needing 3 more wives to be level pegging with Henry VIII, the question was should he dissolve the church of England?
At its peak, the Roman Empire covered approximately five million square kilometres and was home to
 roughly a quarter of the world's population. But despite its advanced infrastructure and immense power, the empire was brought to its knees by natural forces including disease and climate change. While we do live in a different world, where we are continuing to develop control over infectious disease, there are still lessons to be learnt looking back on ancient societies - and our control over such problems remains far from perfect. Pandemics and the unexpected changes they bring have always been part of the natural world and globalisation tends to increase the chances of widespread disease outbreaks.
Germany is today a top-ranking power: rich, strong, and efficiently governed. But just over 200 years ago,
most of its current territory was a shambolic mess — part of the Holy Roman Empire, which even at the time was recognized as an anachronistic political fossil. More than a thousand years old at that point, this empire, not to be confused with the Roman Empire was a patchwork of hundreds of different duchies, electorates, principalities, kingdoms, church lands, and so forth, some of them just a few dozen acres (Liechtenstein is one of these relics which still survives), with an exceptionally complicated and illogical tangle of legal institutions overlaying them all..... ....Surpassed by history, the confederation was ripe for the picking by an opportunistic tyrant.This sound vaguely familiar?

The United States today also bears an uncomfortable similarity to that doomed empire. Who expected then that within about half a year, Donald Trump would manage to fast-forward the country through half a century of Roman history, to the doorstep of the Civil Wars that destroyed what little was left of Republican Rome.The storming of the senate and capitol hill was a strong reminder.
Of course, no historical analogy is exact. The collapse of the Republic was brought on by a combination of structural flaws in its politics and governance, and the self-serving ambitions of ruthless individuals that exploited them.
While the causes were many, inter-related, and complex, at their root was a system that defied any notion of the common good and was devoid of political means to resolve rather than exacerbate division.
But the Roman Republic was more like what we might think of today as a “publicly held corporation” and, essentially, treated as private property. Officials used public office to profit personally and directly (and openly).
The Romans had few compunctions about beggaring their defeated enemies.They had always been careful to reward their friends. Jenrick, Rawlinson, doling out lucrative contracts, helping billionaire property tycoons cut costs, or handing out lifetime seats in the"senate." The guiding principle is the same as those of the Roman republic, built on an arrogance of those who believed they were untouchable and that rules were for mere mortals. Of course, it takes money to make money, so only the very wealthy could afford to pursue these rewards because, along the way, they were expected personally to pay for the lavish spectacles, such as the famous gladiatorial games, that sated the public,
 as well as major public works and public building projects. The Roman state, in short, while ostensibly “public,” had long since been thoroughly privatized. Encouragement of betrayal, snitching/ dobbing on your neighbours; will a man´s death in the UK  soon become a sport, a spectacle of Johnson's electorate metaphorically being being thrown to the lions. Along with the Etonian venality and incompetence, cavalier abuse of the constitution and breaking international law has now become the norm it seems.

Govius Maximus and broccoli loving Drusus Minor
How does a nation with a larger than life ego adjust to life as a midsized power? For the UK, the answer has always been, with difficulty. The problem is that they still think they live in a GREAT Britain and not a piddly little island off the coast of Europe. But, post Brexit, the country is struggling to have another go at defining its global role, and good luck with that, the track record is not looking great with its procrastination of acting on the situation in Afghanistan. Leaving the EU is a hit to its clout. But love it or leave it Brexit is now a fact. 

"How everyone  roared"- Cicero 

From Sulla to Sullen: What does the Fall of the Roman Republic tells us about where Johnson and all the others are going?
Two senators, Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, came to embody the worst of the Senate's excesses, plunging Rome into the greatest crisis it had faced in centuries: its first civil war. And that might be where we find ourselves today. While the political parallels are far from perfect, Marius, hardly a blameless figure, personified the cause of the populares—what we might think of as more-or-less progressive, advocating for an expanded democracy and economic redistribution. Sulla, a patrician who indulged a fairly libertine, sometimes vulgar, lifestyle even throughout his several marriages, was nonetheless the champion of the economic, social and political conservatives, prevailed and eventually became dictator. 
Rome wasn´t built in a day, neither will post Brexit Britain.
Boris Johnson summoned the various squabbling representatives of a kingdom he and sidekick Cummings had divided, and urged them with a perfectly straight face to resolve their differences.If this proved beyond their abilities,then he was very graciously prepared to step in and settle their controversies for them. This prize example of wit would long be remembered by these people.The very idea of being lectured  by a bumptious prankster must surely have struck the barbarians, the latter day heirs of Socrates as a humiliating indignity. All the same they no doubt laughed politely, if hollowly. Johnson´s offers to settle squabbles had a certain ominous resonance .Boris Johnson is  a man who combines a taste for classicism with the sensibility of a joker. He should know the Romans toppled statues too."Damnatio memoriae." Out of date, statues and monuments glorifying slavery. These memories of empire were nostalgia, nothing more. These reflected the presumptions of an age in which empires and monuments had grown larger than life. The small island race has now become a provincial backwater. Ideas above their station and hints that they imagine themselves a great power are regarded by Europeans with hilarity.
"The Romans combined natural human psychology with a kind of imperial arrogance." 

Like Pyrrhus, Johnson loves to lay claim to victories, all of which are at his country´s expense. What will be the consequence of yet another Pyrrhic victory.  Successful negotiations are based on building trust. A piece of paper is only worth something if both sides can be trusted to implement their undertakings, and as David Mitchell or one of the panellists so beautifully put it on Have I got a bit more news for you "Johnson manages to pull out of everything unless it´s a woman" .By breaching that trust with their juvenile antics, Cummings and Johnson increased the risk of Britain being plunged into an even deeper economic crisis by convincing their European partners that they could not sign a government agreement that deliberately failed to implement what it had signed just a year ago. In the end, Pyrrhus, for all his victories, was never able to hold territory or build an empire. Far from becoming a new Alexander, as he had hoped, he died a failure. The same will be true of Johnson if he enjoys any more victories like these. Caesar had no bridge to aid his crossing of the Rubicon but the phrase has been immortalised and is the perfect metaphor for Boris Johnson's Brexit.The mans association with bridges is perhaps a bridge too far. He lied about the Northern Ireland Border and laughably wanted a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland. He even proposed a bridge between England and Europe. His garden bridge in London didn't get off  the ground. Now London is in need of a new bridge across the Thames at Hammersmith and he's not interested!
And finally the connection with broccoli!!!
The Romans held broccoli in high esteem. There is an amusing story of the only natural son of emperor Tiberius, Drusus Minor (top and above ), who loved broccoli so much that he ate nothing but broccoli prepared from a recipe of Marcus Gavius Apicius, during a whole month. It wasn’t until his father forbade him to continue his broccoli diet because of his smelly bright green urine, that he started eating normally again. It didn’t help him anyway, he was poisoned by his wife Livilla on instigation of his rival Sejanus.
Today, Broccoli is probably the most hated vegetable on Earth. Maybe that is because of the cabbage odour that permeates the kitchen when it is cooked. “Just don’t eat broccoli!”, you would say. But alas, broccoli is so disgustingly healthy that conscientious parents traumatize their offsprings by offering these green florets time and time again. American ex-president George H.W. Bush (father of the other Bush) is one of the most well known broccoli haters of modern times. A quote from 1990: “I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”
Broccoli cous cous
So how did the Romans make broccoli more interesting.My first stop for me on my appenine way of research had to be Rachel Roddy´s Kitchen in Rome .How could I write about recipes from Rome without first consulting her informative Guardian column first; and there it was Pasta with twice cooked broccoli.Well I  also unearthed a couple of recipes which the Romans combined  broccoli with orange juice. In the absence of truly Roman recipe I adapted these. One roasts the broccoli with slices of orange. The other steams the broccoli then serves it with orange segments, zest and sesame seeds.
Roasted broccoli with oranges

Orange-Sesame Broccoli

Hmmmmmmm.Will the senate be back for a third term? and will Dias Medievais (Medieval Days) return to Castro Marim?

"If you are going to hell keep going"     Churchill 

"Needs must when the devil drives"   16th century proverb


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