Pass the Pastiche!
By R. D. Flavin



     Some folks have been honoring [sic] the centenary of Ronald Reagan's Feb. 6, 1911 birth by comparing “Reaganomics” to Pres. Obama's economic policies, his “Gipper” patriotism with the faux-roguishness of former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK), and his thespian proclivities with the edgy acting ability of the legendary star of stage and big and small screens, Abe Vigoda.  Well, there they go again...  McRonald Raygun is often associated with the dissolution of the Soviet Union (a process which began during his administration, but which didn't fully manifest until Dec. 25, 1991 under his successor, George H. W. Bush) and some purblind pundits have compared Ronnie's “on my watch” record with Obama's and the ongoing “Jasmine Revolution” in North Africa and the Middle East.  A panel formed by Egyptian military officers to rewrite their constitution is studying the Constitution of the United States of America for tips and tricks.  Turn to the Left, turn to the Right, turn round and round, and pass the pastiche.  Egypt would honor the American “Framers” of the US Constitution (and their French and British influences) if it chose secular over religious (presumably, Islamic) democracy.  Well, according to Reagan, “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”  Wait, what?!?  Oh, right; the 1954 addition to 'The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States'.  The theocratic O/U will be determined when Zombie Einstein teaches God how to play dice...

     The so-called “Jasmine Revolution” is named after the color of the Tunisian national flower, which is whitish yellow, as opposed to Disney's 1992 'toon character, Princess Jasmine (from Aladdin), who lived in some mythological Central Asian country which combines Chinese and Islamic traits, and she's sort of light brown...  [Note: Consider the complexions of Left-Coast Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) and Right-Coast Sen Scott Brown (R-MA) and, please, forget I ever and even mentioned this...]  There's a weird botanical (for the most part) color-coding at work to distinguish quasi-nonviolent revolutions and attempts, e.g. Carnation (Portugal 1974), Rose (Georgia 2003), Orange (Ukraine 2004), Cedar (Lebanon 2005), Blue (Kuwait 2005), Tulip (Kyrgyzstan 2005), Green (Iran 2009), and Lotus (Egypt 2011), from those 'feces-against-wind-producing-device' political and socio-economic organizational reboots or bloody rebellions.  With the acceptance that there are few absolutes, “nonviolent” is a relative term, that is, unless you're related to the Tunisian produce vendor, Mohamed “Basboosa” Bouazizi, who died after setting himself on fire in protest of harsh police tactics.  The ensuing “Jasmine Revolution” did successfully overthrow the twenty-three year authoritarian reign of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011, inspire similar protests elsewhere, yet ...Tunisia is now in danger of losing many of its cultural freedoms from Islamic fundamentalists.  Yeah, a toss-off of being between Iraq and a hard place would be insensitive...

     When, after nearly forty-years of being a “modern pharaoh,” Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak resigned on February 11, 2011, a popular progressive and positivistic esprit de corps arose with the difficult goals of social equality and representative democracy before the Egyptian people.  A new constitution for Egypt is necessary, freedom can be a tricky thing, and if some want to duplicate the style of the American “Constitution,” with or without quill pens, …such should be openly advocated.


Frank Frazetta's stolen "Conan of Aquilonia" painting.

     I first encountered the term, “pastiche,” when I was in eighth-grade reading the Lancer 'Conan' paperback series, which combined the original Robert E. Howard narratives with new stories and novels by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and Björn Nyberg, as well as several uncompleted Howard yarns finished by De Camp, and some minor non-Conan Howard tales rewritten by De Camp with Conan as the hero.  Some had been published previously as the classic Gnome Press 'Conan' editions of 1950-1957, most of the Lancer paperbacks had way iconic Frank Frazetta covers, and though Roy Thomas and Barry Smith were successfully interpreting Howard's Conan the Barbarian in a comic book format, up until 1974 or so, when Lancer went bankrupt (and Frazetta's not-quite completed cover for Conan of Aquilonia was stolen from Lancer's NYC offices), De Camp and Carter were widely held as the heirs of Conan continuity and just about everyone appreciated their efforts, referred to as 'pastiches', in that they were written in the 'style' of someone else, that is, Robert “Two-Gun Bob” Ervin Howard.  So, I've regarded 'pastiche' as an independent piece written with a thoughtful respect which combines original author narrative essentials and ...new stuff.  New and good-bad-otherwise, yet presented reverently and to further...  Even though Howard purists are often overtly and overly critical of the De Camp and Carter pastiches, I will continue to admire both well-done homage and … cool new stuff.

     Should the Egyptians (and others) be encouraged to do a pastiche of the Constitution of the United States of America?  Yeah, sure, fine, great, and sooner rather than later...  My working definition of 'pastiche' as “in the style of” acknowledges an etymology which extends the English term as borrowed from the French and meaning a creative work (here, linguistic, but often enough used in art, music, and architecture criticism).  The French pastiche was a reworking of the Italian pasticcio, a confused or mixed affair or work, also applied to a meat and pasta pie (var. “noodle casserole,” see: Greek pastitsio), which in turn was a derivation of the post-classical Latin pasticium, a pie or pastry.  Of course, such an etymology leads to 'pasta' and 'paste', simple mixtures of flour and water, but before the Anglo-Norman past and the Old French paste, both meaning a dough made of flour, we face a battle of empirical evidence against assumption and allegation.

     For many, “pasta” was something Marco Polo spoke about in his Livres des merveilles du monde (“Books of the Marvels of the World”), as recorded and circulated in Old French by his associate, the romance writer, Rustichello da Pisa.  Polo discussed 'pasta' (var. spaghetti noodles) as a Chinese food product, an observation which has inspired many (mostly non-Italians) to incorrectly assume Polo “introduced” a recipe for pasta to the Maritime Republics of Italy (and the rest of Europe) from China, much as Columbus and his followers brought back tobacco, chocolate, tomatoes, potatoes, and such from the New World a couple centuries later.  Recent research has shown that Washington Irving commercially popularized the myth that Columbus fought against the “Flat Earth” crowd and that Italians were cooking with pasta of different sorts since before Roman and Etruscan times.  However, ethnobotanists have strongly suggested that earlier Italian pasta and similar dough products lacked vitality and versatility until the hardy and hale Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum L. subsp. durum (Desf.) Husn.) from West Asia and North Africa (WANA) began to be widely used in Italy, a period which was thought to be contemporaneous with the Crusades, ca. 1095 – 1291 CE.  Paleobotanists (var. archaeobotanists) even more recently have suggested an eighth or seventh century CE transfer from North Africa into Sicily.  Okay, so we got good ol' hard wheat in Southern Italy ca. 750 CE, most cooks are changing their choice of grain ingredients, and some are preparing ...cool new stuff.

     The agricultural construct of WANA notwithstanding, a more appropriate discussion area would concern an Eastern Mediterranean complex with the lands from Southern Europe, Anatolia, the “Near East” of Southwestern Asia, and North Africa including Egypt.  Such a “complex” seems to have been in place since humans first left Africa, continued throughout all those dusty shelves of "Western" recorded history, and with all the “revolutions” about, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi might wish to consider spending more time with ragù rather than ragazza...  Just sayin'....  Anywho, examples of borrowing and diffusion are abundant in the Eastern Mediterranean complex, yet with unabashed aplomb, I must refer to my personal fav, a Greco-Roman exchange, that is ...the origin of lasagna!  With great ingredients comes great responsibility!  Right; Italophiles and manic foodies should skip the next paragraph.

     Debate continues as to the correct etymology of lasagna and what follows is a personal skinny and won't advance any argument significantly.  Once upon a Classical Greek period (ca. 510 – 323 BCE), non-Spartan (probably Athenian) Greeks were too lazy to get up and walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night and used a bed-chamber pot for convenience.  At some point, the Grecian chamber pot was also used as a cooking utensil (hopefully after a thorough cleaning).  Maybe they were Spartans...  When Rome absorbed (read: conquered and stole) what they could from Hellenic culture, they appropriated the unique brazier cooking utensil (nee: bed-chamber pot), called it lasanum (Morris 1985; pp. 402, 403), and used it mainly for certain layered desserts.  At some mind-numbing (though stomach pleasing) future point, the layered dessert began to be made with meat, “layered” become its distinguishing feature, and with the addition of an egg in the durum wheat and water dough, producing a soft, yet resilient “dumpling” noodle, and the rest is ...a good meal.

     What most would refer to as “regional” variations of lasagna consist of layered casseroles made with pasta(s), meat, and sauce (often a white or creamy Béchamel sauce) and are popular in Italy, Greece, and Egypt as pasticcio, pastitsio, and something inferior translators call: Egyptian “Macaroni Béchamel.”  Much relationship, many new approaches, common encouragement, and wholesome goodness all around.  A preference for burnt beef and ketchup aside, “to each, his (or her) own” seems right up there with the "Golden Rule," that is, the maxim ("Do unto others as...") which requires an ethic of reciprocity.  No, we shouldn't judge individual value from a particular menu selection, a paperback page-turner, or perhaps even a fledgling form of democracy.

     If Egypt, and Tunisia, along with whatever new governments may form in the coming hours, days, weeks, and months, wish to copy the Constitution of the United States of America, I encourage such wholeheartedly.  Sure, the US Constitution seems to change whenever some asshat gets congressional backing, but that's a necessary part of American-style freedom that democracy-seekers will have to find out for themselves.  And when they do?  Pass the pastiche, please...  I'm sure it'll be a great read...

Bibliography:
Morris, Sarah P.  1985.  “Λ AΣ ANA: A Contribution to the Ancient Greek Kitchen.”  Hesperia.  54, 4: 393-409.

Going sideways through the grain,

Rick

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